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Transmission line approved; Wind farm takes another step forward

Two U.S. Government agencies released decisions in the last two weeks that may bring a proposed Carbon County wind farm closer to becoming a reality.

Tuesday, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a record of decision approving a power transmission line project that will allow energy produced in Wyoming to be sold in power-hungry Southwestern States. The BLM’s decision came on the heels of last week’s announcement that the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife had issued a final Environmental Impact Study (EIS) for Power Company of Wyoming’s (PCW) requested eagle take permit for the first phase of the company’s Chokecherry/Sierra Madre wind farm.

In a Tuesday press release, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced a record of decision approving the TransWest Express (TWE) Transmission Project. The TransWest Transmission project is a series of transmission lines that will move energy produced in Wyoming—including energy produced by PCW’s Chokecherry/Sierra Madre wind farm—to market states in the Southwest United States.

The BLM’s record of decision grants right-of-way to the power line transmission project on BLM land, which covers about 60 percent of the proposed 730-mile route. If completed, the transmission line will be a 3,000-megawatt transmission backbone.

“The Western U.S. needs new interregional transmission infrastructure like the TWE Project, which will allow California and other Desert Southwest utilities to directly access high-capacity Wyoming wind to balance and diversify their generation portfolios in a cost-effective manner,” Bill Miller, president and CEO of TransWest said in a news release.

“Today’s important federal permitting milestone further advances the TWE Project’s progress and brings this critical infrastructure project one step closer to construction, creating employment opportunities across the West,” Miller said in the release.

The TransWest transmission line will eventually terminate at an energy marketplace hub near Hoover Dam in Nevada, where energy produced in Wyoming will be available to power grids in Arizona, Nevada and green energy hungry California.

Some of that green energy would be produced by PCW’s Chokecherry/Sierra Madre wind farm. Thursday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued the final EIS regarding PCW’s requested eagle take permit.

If approved, the eagle take permit will be granted to PCW for the first phase of the wind farm project, which is comprised of road and other infrastructure improvements and 500 of a proposed 1000 windmills in the checkerboard BLM/State/Private lands west of Saratoga and south of Rawlins.

PCW requested the eagle take permit voluntarily, said Kara Choquette, Director of Communications for PCW. PCW, Choquette said, was among the first companies to have worked with the Fish and Wildlife Service to request an eagle take permit.

Eagle take permits are issued under a 2009 law which prohibits anyone from taking or interfering with bald or golden eagles without a permit.

The permitting process for PCW’s requested eagle take permit took several years and involved multiple studies to understand the impacts of the wind farm on eagles and other migratory avian species like bats. The company used radar and other means to track the patterns of eagles and other birds to provide guidance in placing the windmills.

“(The request for an eagle take permit) was part of Power Company of Wyoming’s overall effort to make sure this wind project was developed in a way that was also consistent with wildlife conservation,” Choquette said. “That’s reflected not only in how we chose to deal with the eagle conservation matters but also the sage grouse and other important species.”

Now that the final EIS for the eagle take permit has been issued, it will be a minimum of 30 days before the Fish and Wildlife Service issue a record of decision for the permit application. The EIS can be viewed online at http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/wind/chokecherrySierraMadre. Hard copies are also available at the Rawlins and Saratoga branches of the Carbon County Library system.