Studies show economic potential of routing Wyo.’s wind-generated power to Colo.

Source: Scott Streater, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Two new studies conclude that marrying Wyoming’s largely untapped wind power potential with Colorado’s growing energy demands would create thousands of jobs and generate billions of dollars in economic activity in both states.

The two studies, both commissioned by the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority (WIA), are part of a broader effort by the authority to gauge the state’s wind power potential and the economic benefits of transporting wind-generated electricity to neighboring states.

In the first study, conducted by the University of Wyoming’s Wind Energy Research Center, researchers found Wyoming’s wind resources are stronger than Colorado’s, particularly during peak daytime hours.

Incorporating Wyoming wind power to growing municipalities along Colorado’s Front Range would reduce power generation volatility generally associated with renewable resources like wind and solar on the grid, reducing the need for backup power from other sources, according to the study.

“This analysis shows that combining diverse renewable resources from Wyoming with those in Colorado would result in mitigating the amount of dispatchable generation required to address the variability of wind and solar,” J.M. Shafer, a WIA board member, said in a statement. “Given the significant amount of Colorado wind already connected to the grid, the time has come to consider blending it with a diverse resource with consideration afforded to the fact that Wyoming wind peaks during the day, correlating well with demand.”

The second study, conducted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colo., found that producing 900 megawatts of wind-generated electricity in Wyoming and building the power line needed to transport it to Colorado would create 4,000 jobs and generate $2.2 billion and $1.5 billion in total economic output, respectively, in the two states.

“This study shows that infrastructure built in one state can benefit another state,” Loyd Drain, WIA’s executive director, said in a statement. “I am hopeful this work by NREL will give pause to those who would believe that infrastructure built out of state yields zero benefits.”

But first, both states must improve electricity transmission capacity, according to WIA, which was established by the state Legislature in 2004 to promote the expansion of the state’s transmission infrastructure.

Both the NREL and the Wind Energy Research Center studies point to the need to complete a 180-mile transmission line currently under review.

The 345-kilovolt Wyoming-Colorado Intertie Project proposed by WIA and LS Power Group would originate at a substation in southeast Wyoming and connect to a substation in Brush, Colo., in the state’s northeast corner.

If permitted, the 850 MW line could be in operation by 2017. Wyoming Wind and Power last year received approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to use all of the line’s electricity carrying capacity.

Wyoming currently has 1,400 MW of installed wind power capacity, ranking 13th nationwide, according to the American Wind Energy Association. But the state’s wind resources have the capacity to produce 116 times the state’s current electricity needs, according to NREL.

The idea of developing Wyoming’s wind power and transporting it to major load centers across the West is not new.

Denver-based billionaire Philip Anschutz has proposed two ambitious projects aimed at harnessing Wyoming’s wind and transmitting 3 gigawatts of renewable energy, via a 725-mile-long high-voltage transmission line, to markets across the southwestern United States (ClimateWire, Feb. 1).

And the Wind Energy Research Center in January released a study commissioned by WIA that measured the load Wyoming could provide compared with that from wind and solar projects in California. Like the new study in Colorado, it showed that Wyoming’s winds are steady during the day, when demand is high, compared with California wind that blows primarily at night (Greenwire, Feb. 19).

California, the nation’s biggest energy market, has a legal mandate to produce 33 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2020.

The University of Wyoming is scheduled later this year to release a study comparing Wyoming wind-load capacity to that of nearby Nebraska.

“Given the studies that the University of Wyoming has conducted to date, the topography in Wyoming and the corresponding wind regimes yield excellent geographic diversity when combined with renewable resources in California and now Colorado,” Shafer said.