May 3, 2015

Preferred route for wind-power crosses Moffat

By Dennis Webb | The Daily Sentinel | Saturday, May 2, 2015 |

Two federal agencies have identified a route that passes through central Moffat County as their preferred alternative in a final environmental review of a proposed transmission line project to carry southern Wyoming wind energy to the desert Southwest.

The Bureau of Land Management and Western Area Power Administration’s preferred route is identified in a newly released final environmental impact statement. An alternative route would pass through eastern Moffat County and western Rio Blanco and Garfield counties, and a small portion of Mesa County, before heading into Utah near the Interstate 70 corridor.

The agencies will issue final decisions on the project later.

The Wilderness Society is criticizing the preferred route through Moffat County, saying it fails to avoid and/or mitigate impacts to greater sage-grouse and lands with wilderness characteristics. But the BLM says it plans to address those impacts.

The TransWest Express LLC project would carry electricity primarily from the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project, which is being pursued by Power Company of Wyoming LLC. Both Power Company of Wyoming and TransWest are owned by the Anschutz Corp., led by billionaire Philip Anschutz.

TransWest says its 725-mile, $3 billion project would create more than 1,000 construction jobs per year over its three-year construction. The project would deliver up to 3,000 megawatts of electricity to a location near Las Vegas, supplying power to that area and other areas including San Diego. The federal government says the project would provide enough energy to power more than a million homes, and the carbon emissions savings would be like taking nearly 900,000 cars off the road.

Alex Daue, assistant director for renewable energy at the Wilderness Society, said that organization supports renewable energy development and transmission “if done in the appropriate place and in the right way to protect wildlands and wildlife habitat.”

But he said the preferred route would pass through several BLM areas identified as lands with wilderness characteristics in Moffat County, and threaten greater sage-grouse and prime big-game hunting habitat.

That route would drop south into the central part of the county before heading west to Utah near the Rio Blanco County line. The alternative route would somewhat track the Colorado Highway 13 corridor from Wyoming to Craig in eastern Moffat County before heading west and then south into Rio Blanco, Garfield and Mesa counties.

Daue said the alternative route follows existing transmission lines and designated utility corridors in Moffat County. He said if the route that’s chosen impacts resources like wildlands and sage-grouse, the BLM must at least mitigate impacts, or offset them through new protections in other places, and the Wilderness Society doesn’t see an adequate effort to do that.

Beverly Gorny, a BLM spokeswoman, said the BLM is aware of the Wilderness Society’s concerns, which arose late in the process of producing the EIS, and is preparing an addendum to address them. She said that won’t mean a change in the agencies’ route preference in the EIS, but the BLM will address how to mitigate impacts.

Regarding the greater sage-grouse, she said the preferred route seeks to avoid core habitat areas in Wyoming.

Where there is potential for habitat impacts in places like Moffat County, she said, BLM will be applying mitigation measures.

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