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BLM approves major transmission projects in the West

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Essential Energy Insights - September 17, 2020

Essential Energy Insights September 2020


BLM approves major transmission projects in the West

The Bureau of Land Management issued records of decision on two major transmission projects across western states in a signing ceremony in Coronado, Calif., with Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, California Gov. Jerry Brown and other notables. The federal agency approved plans for the TransWest Express and Gateway South projects, which together will span more than 1,100 miles of 500-kV and 600-kV transmission lines across Utah and portions of Wyoming, Colorado and Nevada. Among the largest transmission projects in recent U.S. history, the lines are designed to bring renewable energy to large urban markets in the Southwest.

The TransWest project will be the first direct-current transmission system for wind power, TransWest Express LLC spokeswoman Kara Choquette said by phone.

TransWest will run for about 730 miles from southern Wyoming diagonally across Utah to southern Nevada and will carry primarily wind-generated electricity to southwestern markets. Gateway South will extend about 400 miles from southern Wyoming to central Utah. The two projects share common paths across much of their routes in order reduce environmental and land impacts, said BLM spokesman Brad Purdy.

The TransWest route includes two substation/converter stations of about 200 acres each that will be constructed at each terminating point, according to the developer's web site. The line will have a capacity of 3,000 MW.

Gateway South is part of PacifiCorp's 500-kV Energy Gateway Transmission Expansion project. Gateway South will extend from the Aeolus substation in southeastern Wyoming to the Clover substation near Mona, Utah, according to PacifiCorp's web site.

Choquette said the two projects have been coordinated together through western regional transmission planning processes. TransWest will carry wind-generated electricity from Wyoming to what the industry calls the "Marketplace Hub" at the Hoover Dam, where four major substations connect the California, Nevada and Arizona grids.

TransWest will operate bidirectionally, so solar power from California can flow east to interior western states as well, Choquette said.

Coal connection

The project also is configured to allow for a future interconnection with the Intermountain Power Agency's coal-fired Intermountain Power Plant near Delta, Utah. That link will depend on market demand, Choquette said, but there is already an AC/DC converter at the plant so TransWest will maintain the flexibility to provide that connection if needed. California forbids its utilities from signing long-term contracts for power produced with coal.

More than eight years of detailed environmental analyses pushed the original TransWest project in-service date from 2015 to an "as soon as possible" time frame, with construction scheduled to start in 2018. The project still needs approvals from the Western Area Power Administration and the U.S. Forest Service.

While TransWest Express, as its name implies, will be an interstate express line, Gateway South is just one segment of PacifiCorp's expansive effort to interconnect its six-state system with a triangular configuration of transmission lines, according to the Berkshire Hathaway Energy subsidiary's spokeswoman Margaret Oler. PacifiCorp is also hopeful that two other segments of its Gateway West project will be approved in coming weeks, she said.

The U.S. Department of the Interior announced the signings as part of President Obama's Climate Action Plan to cut carbon pollution and create clean energy jobs. Jewell and Brown signed a memorandum of understanding for the Interior Department and the state of California to collaborate on efforts to encourage development of renewable energy projects on federal and state lands and in offshore waters.

Despite the fanfare over the renewable energy boosting capabilities of the projects, not everyone was happy with BLM's decisions. The Wilderness Society's Assistant Director for Energy and Climate Alex Daue expressed "extreme disappointment" with missed opportunities for lessening environmental impacts with alternative routes.

"The routes unnecessarily destroy wilderness-quality lands in northwest Colorado and eastern Nevada, as well as greater sage-grouse habitat," Daue said in an email. "Readily available alternative routes could have minimized or eliminated these impacts by following highways and designated utility corridors."