Southern Wyoming wind energy transmission line will benefit Colorado on way to powering California

Source: By Joel Funk, Greeley Tribune • Posted: Monday, September 18, 2017

RAWLINS, WYO. – A project more than a decade in the making to build transmission lines supplying wind power generated in southern Wyoming to markets in southwestern states also could benefit Colorado when it begins in 2019.

The TransWest Express Transmission Project is a 730-mile power line stretching from a terminal in Carbon County, Wyo., just south of Rawlins, to another terminal south of Las Vegas to power portions of Nevada, Arizona and California with up to 3,000 megawatts of electricity — enough to light up 2 million homes. The line would transmit power from the developing Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project in southern Wyoming, where the first phase of construction began last year to install 500 of 1,000 planned wind turbines.

The Chokecherry and Sierra Madre wind farm is a project of Power Company of Wyoming and located on a 320,000-acre ranch owned by the Anschutz Corporation in Denver. TransWest Express, a sister company of Power Company of Wyoming, is completing the steps to begin construction of the transmission line, which will draw its juice from the wind-power projects.

With up to 3,000 megawatts of power generation, the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre project would be the largest wind energy generation project in the United States. The company has not yet chosen the manufacturer of the wind turbines, and Vestas could potentially win the contract. TransWest officials have examined the company’s capabilities, but they will not make decisions until later this year; they will not need the turbines for another year or so. Vestas has manufacturing facilities throughout Colorado: a blade plant in Windsor, a blade and nacelle plant in Brighton and a tower plant in Pueblo.

The transmission line is critical in making the most of the energy commodity, as it would allow markets in California, Nevada and Arizona to access it.

“The issue is really population and demand,” TransWest Express director of communications Kara Choquette said. “California has 40 million people and they have specific state requirements to obtain electricity from renewable sources. Wyoming has 600,000 people and it doesn’t have those requirements.”

David Smith, TransWest director of engineering and operations, said the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre project is a $5 billion investment. The transmission lines are a $3 billion investment, with an expected $1 billion expenditure in Wyoming. In Colorado, the project would represent an investment of $114 million to $164 million. The benefits include the construction of 91 miles of lines cutting through the northwest corner of the state on its way to Utah. The project would pay an estimated $604,000 to $869,000 in property taxes to Moffat County in the first year, according to a fact sheet from TransWest. Additionally, construction materials would generate at least $1 million in sales tax revenue in Colorado, according to the fact sheet.

Before construction can begin, however, TransWest has plenty of work to do. State and local permitting, private land acquisition, right-of-way access and surveying work is still to come, Smith said.

Work on the wind-farm project already has begun with construction of an internal road system and other infrastructure, Choquette said. Both wind projects will span roughly 1,600 acres on the ranch.

“The first couple years of construction are devoted to building the base infrastructure. The road under construction now will be critical to ongoing maintenance. We’re planning to deliver the turbines to the site via rail, through Union Pacific. We’re building an offloading facility for the turbines. The idea is to deliver the turbines to site via rail, and truck them internally to the project site, so we’re keeping the vast majority of the project off the county roads.”

The transmission project, alone, has been in the works since 2005, but Anschutz acquired the project in 2008. It has been dealing with federal permitting since, and gained approval for the first phase in December 2016.

The line will have the capability of transmitting 3,000 megawatts, but that won’t preclude other wind power projects from jumping in to help supply the juice. Choquette said the entire project from wind farm to Las Vegas has a 50-year life.

As the construction project begins, the transmission lines will be visible on the landscape south of Rawlins along the Interstate 80 corridor before cutting south just east of Wamsutter. It will go through northwest Colorado before crossing Utah on its way into Nevada. Two-thirds of the route crosses through federal lands, but Smith said TransWest also is negotiating with private property owners.

“There (are) some 500-600 landowners also that we’re now engaged with to get right of way for a 250-foot easement, as well as access to private roads,” he said. “We need construction and maintenance access to all the transmission line throughout the operation. There’s not a lot of maintenance that goes on, but for liability reasons, we need to be able to get there.”

Most of the towers will have either three- or six-string conductors, Smith said. The structures are both steel lattice towers, one a guyed structure he said would be most commonly seen on the lines. Each would be installed about 1,500 feet apart for the more than 700-mile distance, Smith said.

When complete, Smith said the life cycle of the project would span 50 or more years.

— Greeley Tribune business editor Sharon Dunn contributed to this report.