BLM advances Wyo.-to-Utah project to spur renewables

Source: Scott Streater, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, May 13, 2016

The Bureau of Land Management is advancing a major multistate transmission line project that the Obama administration considers a top priority in its ongoing efforts to develop wind and solar power in the West.

BLM announced yesterday it has completed a final environmental impact statement (EIS) for the 416-mile-long Gateway South Transmission Line Project, which is proposed by PacifiCorp’s Rocky Mountain Power and has been under federal review since 2008.

The proposed route in the final EIS would stretch from an existing substation in southeast Wyoming through a patch of northwestern Colorado and into central Utah. It would take pains to follow existing power lines and the West-wide Energy Corridor, which covers 6,000 miles of public lands in 11 Western states.

Indeed, the BLM’s preferred route follows existing utility corridors for 51 miles and parallels existing transmission lines for about 116 miles. More than half the line’s proposed route — 231 miles — is on BLM managed lands.

The route would largely avoid prime greater sage grouse habitat and sensitive public landscapes, but it would pass near the entrance of Dinosaur National Monument in northwestern Colorado. It would also pass near, but not within, the Ouray National Wildlife Refuge and Ashley National Forest, both in eastern Utah.

A number of BLM and Forest Service land-use plans would need to be amended — to address impacts to visual resources and to allow overhead power lines in some utility corridors — before a right-of-way grant could be issued to build the proposed 500-kilovolt line.

The Forest Service will issue separate decisions from BLM on the land-use plan amendments on national forestlands.

“The EIS represents the culmination of a comprehensive planning process that involved the public, American Indian tribes and numerous cooperators at the federal, state, and local levels who analyzed options for a balance of uses in the project area,” BLM Wyoming State Director Mary Jo Rugwell said in a statement. “BLM is committed to an open, active public participation program and we are greatly appreciative of the extensive engagement from American Indian tribes, federal and state agencies, state and local governments and many other interested parties to complete this Final EIS.”

It will be published in tomorrow’s Federal Register, kicking off a 30-day period during which administrative protests can be filed. It also will start a 60-day governor’s consistency review period in which the governors in the three states may weigh in on the consistency of the project with state law.

BLM must still issue a record of decision (ROD) formally approving the project, which is expected this summer. Construction on the line could begin in 2018, the agency said.

“We’re glad to reach this milestone and glad to see that we can move forward,” said Margaret Oler, a spokeswoman for Rocky Mountain Power in Salt Lake City. “It’s one more step in the process, and we are very pleased to have reached this step.”

Focus on green energy

The Obama administration has identified the Gateway South project as significant because officials say it will help spark development of strong wind resources in Wyoming that have been slowed by a lack of transport capacity.

Though the stated purpose of the Gateway South project is “to meet current and forecasted needs” of Rocky Mountain Power customers in growing parts of southeast Wyoming and central Utah, the high-tower transmission line would transmit as much as 1,500 megawatts generated “from both renewable and thermal energy sources,” according to an advance notice on the final EIS published in today’s Federal Register.

Overall, Gateway South is one of six major transmission projects the administration has named as a priority specifically to help unlock wind and solar resources that cannot be currently accessed due to lack of infrastructure needed to bring the electricity to market.

Among the six is the 515-mile-long SunZia Southwest Transmission Project, which proponents say should spark renewable energy development in Arizona and New Mexico. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell last year approved a ROD authorizing the project, which is projected to carry about 3,000 MW of what proponents say will be mostly wind- and solar-generated electricity from northeast New Mexico to an electric distribution point northwest of Tucson, Ariz.

BLM last week also issued an ROD approving another of the six priority projects — the 360-mile-long Southline Transmission Project across southern New Mexico and Arizona that is also expected to promote renewables in the West.

Gateway South is part of a proposed $6 billion Energy Gateway development project spearheaded by Rocky Mountain Power’s parent company, PacifiCorp, that would add roughly 2,000 miles of transmission lines capable of carrying 4,500 MW of electricity through Utah, Wyoming and Idaho.

The other projects are the similarly named 990-mile Gateway West and 235-mile Gateway Central transmission lines.

BLM issued a ROD in 2013 for the Gateway West line, approving eight of the 10 segments of the power line and allowing the agency to grant right-of-way permits to begin constructing segments across southern Wyoming. They agency is still working on final routes for the last two segments of the line in southeast Idaho.

Rocky Mountain Power completed the Gateway Central power line in May 2013.

Click here to access the final EIS and proposed land-use amendments and to read more about the project.