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Inside Energy: Wyoming Wind Power

Energy rich states produce billions of barrels of oil and gas but are also home to some of the best renewable resources in the country.  But states like Wyoming and North Dakota lag behind others in actual wind production.   Earlier this month the massive Chokecherry And Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project, got the green light in Wyoming.  But who’s buying all that wind power?  Right now there is no way to get it out of Wyoming, to the other states that really need it.  For Inside Energy, Leigh Paterson reports on why transmission gridlocks are keeping Wyoming wind at bay.

Shiny white blades slice through the clear Wyoming sky.  The sun is blinding and the sound….  

(SB LAINE ANDERSON, PROJECT MANAGER, PACIFICORP)

ME: Whhhho! It is windy! LANE: Well, the wind is coming around the turbine now.

Laine Anderson is a project manager with PacifiCorp, the utility company that owns High Plains wind farm. 

(SB LA, PROJECT MANAGER, PACIFICORP)

“Wyoming is a excellent producer of wind, every day, day in and day out.”

It blows hard and often, sometimes ripping through these high elevation plains at 60 miles an hour.  And sometimes taking my hardhat with it.

(SOUND UP)

Hard hat goes flying, clunk, clunk

This farm is small- just 66 turbines, and most of its electricity is consumed right here in Wyoming.  Compare that to the Chokecherry project where a proposed one thousand wind turbines would generate electricity for the west coast.  In theory. 

University of Wyoming professor Rob Godby compares it to real estate.

(SB ROB GODBY)

“We have a great house and a relatively poor location

Because Wyoming has powerful wind resources, but its far away from the states that need more energy.

(SB ROB GODBY)

“and in order to overcome that location, we need to build transmission line and those are expensive.”

Three billion dollars expensive.  That’s the projected cost of TransWest Express, the transmission line that would carry some of Chokecherry’s power 725 miles to a station in Nevada.  Both projects are backed by The Anschutz Corporation, a  Denver-based energy conglomerate.  In order to BUILD their transmission line, Anschutz will have to cut through a lot of backyards….

(SB ROB GODBY)

People don’t like change! They move to particular places for a reason, they like where they are and if you come in and say this is what we’re going to do for the good of the rest of the county, in some ways they’re sacrificing.”

(SOUND UP TRUCK)

One of those sacrificing, is Wyoming rancher Niels Hansen.  He drives me up over a fiery-red rim to get better look at his land.

(SOUNDBITE NIELS HANSEN)

ME: oh wow, HIM: can you get that back east? Hahaha.

Utah-based Rocky Mountain Power is planning a different long distance transmission line- one that Chokecherry could also use to transport its electricity.

(SOUND UP)

Gateway west, we’re almost underneath it, it will be running from east to west. Right across this property.  And Hansen has been fighting it since the first letter arrived.

(SOUNDBITE NH)

I wrote back and said you’re not welcome on our property. Stay off until you give me specifics of where you want to go and what you wanna do.”

That didn’t work - Hansen says the transmission company could have built on his property anyway by claiming eminent domain.  Now, he seems resigned to the fact that the line will probably be built.  I asked him what he thinks it will look like.

(SOUNDBITE NH)

My worst nightmare! Hahahaha.

Private landowners slow down the process.  And so do the feds because two-thirds of Transwest will cross federal land. Beverly Gorny of Wyoming’s Bureau of Land Management says they’ll have to issue a record of decision, then grant a right of way, then a notice to proceed….

(SOUNDBITE Beverly Gorny)

But we’re not the only entity they have to deal with in terms of getting this up and built and going.  

There’s also Utah, Colorado, Nevada, and then there are environmental interests….

(SOUNDBITE Beverly Gorny)

“So they have many, many I’s to dot and T’s to cross before they can actually break ground.”

So, essentially this wind farm and its transmission lines are one gigantic bet on future energy policies and demands. TransWest sounds optimistic, they’re quote very advanced in the federal environmental analysis process unquote.. And Rob Godby of the University of Wyoming says the combination of the Obama administration’s push to reduce emissions, AND state’s renewable energy mandates all mean transmission from Wyoming to the western grid could be incredibly profitable.

(SB ROB GODBY)

And that’s really the bottom line. But like anything else, that remains to be seen.   Its a gamble.

And a long term gamble at that.  TransWest Express has been under development since 2005 and if approved, it likely won’t be online for at least two to three more years.  For Inside Energy, I’m Leigh Paterson.

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