CHEYENNE, Wyo. – State officials and energy experts continue to make the case for California and other western states to tap into Wyoming’s plentiful wind energy resources.
Wyoming stands to benefit by adding jobs and increasing state tax revenues if it can ship its wind-produced energy to other western states with the help of long-distance transmission lines.
But California, in particular, has favored in-state projects to fulfill its renewable-energy mandates instead of looking at the potential to import wind energy from Wyoming.
Several presenters at Thursday’s Wyoming Infrastructure Authority energy conference, however, said California would also benefit if it agrees to buy wind energy generated from Wyoming’s current or planned wind farms.
Jonathan Naughton, director of the University of Wyoming’s Wind Energy Research Center, said California ratepayers could see reduced costs if this occurs.
But, just as importantly, he said the final phase of his recently completed research shows it also would improve the reliability of California’s electric grid.
“We are really starting to show that besides better-quality wind and money savings due to the fact we have higher capacity, there are other implications of blending wind between Wyoming and California that are good,” he said.
“And if you want to generalize that, blending resources from across the West to provide a better product of renewable energy is really going to help the entire West.”
Naughton said this is because wind speeds peak at different times of the day and year in Wyoming compared with California.
He said this means California can avoid the volatility in its electric grid – something that creates problems for power operators, leads to higher costs and could lead to blackouts – by importing Wyoming’s wind energy.
Jim Detmers is an energy consultant and a former vice president of operations for the California Independent System Operator Corporation, which was responsible for the state’s electric transmission system.
He agreed that mixing California and Wyoming wind resources would be a “huge benefit” to the grid.
Using Wyoming’s wind would also help California meet its self-imposed mandate that requires one-third of its electricity to come from renewable sources by 2022.
But Detmers said it will still be a challenge to convince California’s lawmakers and regulators to import the renewable energy since they are focused on creating in-state jobs to meet its energy demands.
To counter this, he stressed the need for more studies and data detailing the benefits of importing the wind energy.
“That is the single most important thing that I’ve seen happen,” he said. “We got to get this information out.”
Daniel Curtin, who moderated the discussion on wind energy during Thursday’s energy conference, is the director of the California Conference of Carpenters.
He added it could take an emergency for California to realize that out-of-state resources are needed to strengthen the reliability of its grid.
“If the (grid) falls apart, there will be consequences for politicians,” he said. “Once you get that concept through to the chairman of the energy utilities or that sort of thing, they’ll pay more attention.”
Wyoming is about to address another major obstacle that has stood in the way of sending its wind energy out west.
The Denver-based Anschulz Corporation is close to gaining final federal approvals for its Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project, which will install 1,000 turbines in Carbon County.
Geoff Lambert, director of finance with the company, said a related project to create a 730-mile transmission line that would run from Rawlins to Las Vegas is also on pace to gain federal approval by next year.
If this occurs, he said the first phase for the two projects is expected to be completed by 2020.
Loyd Drain, the outgoing executive director of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority, added that it is only a matter of time before California and other western states see the potential of Wyoming’s wind.
“The jury is in,” he said. “It makes all the sense in the world for Wyoming wind to go to California.”
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