Column: TransWest line to recast Wyoming from coal villain to energy hero

Source: By Gavin Maguire, Reuters • Posted: Tuesday, September 12, 2023

FILE PHOTO: A finished wind turbine complex in southern Wyoming

FILE PHOTO: A finished wind turbine complex in southern Wyoming on July 21, 2009. REUTERS/Ed Stoddard/File Photo 

LITTLETON, Colorado, Sept 11 (Reuters) – A 728-mile (1,172-km) transmission line connecting wind farms in rural Wyoming to power consumers in California and Nevada looks set to reshape Wyoming’s reputation from coal stalwart to energy transition lynchpin.

Wyoming is by far the largest coal producing state in the United States, accounting for more than 40% of total U.S. coal output in 2021, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The state also relies on coal to generate more than 60% of its electricity, three times the U.S. national average, according to environment group Ember, which focuses on the global transition to clean electricity.

But construction of the TransWest Express transmission line, which after 15 years in development finally broke ground this summer, has the potential to reshape Wyoming into a key enabler of the United States’ energy transition ambitions.


A combination of abundant open spaces, above-average wind speeds and relatively low domestic power consumption make Wyoming an ideal candidate for wholesale wind farms that can export power to other states.

Wyoming has the smallest population of all U.S. states, and produces “almost 12 times more energy than it consumes, making it the second-biggest net energy supplier among the states after Texas,” according to the EIA.

In addition, Wyoming’s High Plains topography combined with prevailing jet streams ensure the state’s annual average wind speeds can be 8-9 m/s (18-20 mph) in some areas, compared to less than 5 m/s in a majority of the country, U.S. Department of Energy data shows.

As a result, Wyoming has the potential to generate large amounts of wind power that can be exported to more populous areas which lack their own clean energy supplies.


Once completed around 2027, the TransWest Express interconnection line aims to link Wyoming’s abundant wind resources with needy consumers in California, Arizona and Nevada, according to the TransWest Express LLC website, which contains information about the project.

The line is expected to transmit approximately 20,000 gigawatt hours of clean power per year, and has the potential to become the poster child for energy transition efforts in populated areas that lack the space needed to construct their own wind or solar farms.

Power consumers in densely populated states such as California often face challenges in sourcing locally-generated clean power due to shortages of land appropriate for renewable facilities, as well as being met with fervent opposition to the development of wholesale energy infrastructure of any sort.

However, after more than a decade of securing the access rights and licenses from the relevant authorities along the proposed route, the TransWest line developers are ready to showcase how renewable energy resources can be channelled across long distances to major consumer hubs.


The main engine behind the clean energy that will flow through the TransWest line will be the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre wind energy project, which when completed will be the largest wind farm in the United States.

The 3,000-megawatt capacity project is estimated to cost around $5 billion, contain roughly 600 turbines, and be based primarily in areas with consistently strong winds.

Projects of such scale that are located in optimal wind zones and possess the requisite approvals are rare in the United States, even in the wake of the Inflation Reduction Act, which aimed to fast-track large-scale renewable energy development.

But if the TransWest line can deliver on its promise of efficiently channelling surplus clean power to distant, needy consumers, there is a good chance more such projects will gain the necessary backing.

And given Wyoming’s extensive undeveloped lands and ideal wind conditions, more wholesale wind projects may emerge in the state that may further rehabilitate Wyoming’s image from coal holdout to key clean energy provider.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a columnist for Reuters.

Reporting by Gavin Maguire; Editing by Tom Hogue

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