CHEYENNE – After getting off to a strong start around the state, the wind energy industry in Wyoming hit the doldrums earlier this decade and has been waiting to break out again ever since.
What with the state’s infamous strong winds and wide-open spaces available for development, it would seem a natural location for energy companies looking for prime territory to build generating facilities. After all, the nation as a whole is seeing a wind boom, with turbines going up from coast to coast and seemingly everywhere in between (“utility-scale” facilities exist in 39 states so far).
A 2015 report from the Department of Energy projects that wind will provide 20 percent of the country’s electricity by 2030, compared to 5 percent – 65 gigawatts worth – today.
According to the DOE report, wind is a “demonstrated clean, affordable electricity resource for the nation.” And with the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan in play, the national wind energy rush looks to have some solid legs under it.
So what has been holding the boom back here in Wyoming? Why isn’t the state already the Saudi Arabia of wind? Well, the answer, my friend, isn’t blowing in the wind, it’s often hanging above – or sometimes buried below – the vast plains and rolling prairies.
Anybody who has been watching wind’s ups and downs over the last decade already knows that there are a number of factors involved in establishing a wind farm in the state – from the large amounts of time and money involved in planning, siting and permitting to regulatory hurdles to competition from competing energy sources to cares about threats to birds and other wildlife.
Then there is the major challenge of getting the electricity from here to where it’s needed.
All of these issues facing wind will be part of the discussion in the “Wind Industry in Wyoming Update” portion of the Wyoming Business Report’s annual Energy Summit at the Little America Hotel and Resort in Cheyenne later this month.
According to independent energy consultant Loyd Drain, the former director of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority, the primary reason for the lack of wind growth in Wyoming is due to a lack of transmission capacity, as well as the regulatory burdens of permitting and siting new transmission projects. Drain will be the moderator of a panel discussion on wind energy development at the May 19 Energy Summit. (For more information on the event, or to register, go to http://tinyurl.com/hsvgm65.)
Drain said that installed wind generation capacity in Wyoming grew from a low of 288 megawatts in 2007 to more than 1,400 in 2010, but it “has remained stagnant since, even though Wyoming has world-class wind resources.”
But that could soon change.
According to Drain, “efforts by wind energy and transmission developers are expected to culminate in the doubling of Wyoming’s installed wind capacity in the next few years.”
Invited wind panelists at the Energy Summit will include representatives from the top wind companies active in the state, who will address the new infrastructure that will be required to increase wind-generated power in Wyoming, as well as overcoming the involved regulatory hurdles.
Representatives from the Anschutz Corporation will provided information on the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project in Carbon County and the TransWest Express Transmission Project to California, which will have the ability to carry up to 3,000 megawatts of Wyoming wind power to consumers in California.
Tetra Tech representatives will discuss the often long amounts of time required to complete the permitting process, especially on federal lands.
And LS Power executives will give an update on the SWIP North Transmission Project in Nevada and how the completion of that project – coupled with the Harry Allen to Eldorado Line and PacifiCorp’s Energy Gateway West Transmission Project – can provide additional transmission capacity of up to 1,000 megawatts to ship electricity from Wyoming to California.
An update will also be provided on the proposed merger of the CAISO and PacifiCorp grids.
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