A major utility in Wyoming appears to have the necessary government authorizations to soon begin work on a couple-billion-dollar power transmission project spanning several hundred miles.
The initiative is not without controversy, which is somewhat common in plans of this size that may result in higher electric bills or at least partial subsidization by customers. A state consumer advocate opposes this, while some big industrial users of power were among others telling a regulator about their concerns.
Now, with approval from utility regulators in hand and most recently a federal OK, energy heavyweight PacifiCorp’s Rocky Mountain Power says it expects to begin construction in June on a 416-mile section of the power transmission project. In August, the utility says it will start work on another 75-mile portion.
The upshot for the environment is that Rocky Mountain Power might be able to stop using some coal-produced power and instead use electricity generated by the wind, with these operations connecting to this long-haul transmission project. If past is precedent, the downside to Wyoming consumers may be that their power bills could eventually go up to help pay for the project, which the utility says will cost some $2.2 billion.
“These investments to expand and modernize our grid are the foundation of our plan to deliver our customers’ demand for a transition to a clean energy future that is affordable and reliable,” said a statement distributed by email Thursday and attributed to Stefan Bird, CEO of Pacific Power. This is a unit of PacifiCorp, which itself is part of billionaire investor Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathway. This “enables access to the West’s abundant and diverse energy resources and is also foundational to enabling advanced energy markets,” added Bird, “which will provide lower costs for customers, reduce emissions and improve reliability.”
On Thursday, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management issued the final approval for the 416-mile Energy Gateway South Transmission line.
BLM described this as “a significant milestone in the” Biden administration’s “efforts to modernize America’s power infrastructure in the West and permit at least 25 gigawatts of solar, wind and geothermal production on public lands by 2025. The project will support approximately 1,325 construction jobs and help integrate up to 2,000 megawatts of new renewable energy resources into the grid.”
That amount of power would serve Cheyenne many times over. Our region is served by another utility, Black Hills Energy, which itself has a pending power line request at the PSC.
The Rocky Mountain Power projects that got the nod on May 10 from the Wyoming Public Service Commission involve a high-voltage transmission line from a power substation near Medicine Bow, Wyoming, to another substation near Mona, Utah; it would also pass through Colorado. The shorter line would be within our state. These additions could start service in late 2024, under the company’s plan.
And last month, the Utah PSC approved a pact that involved also issuing a certificate of public convenience and necessity for Gateway South, that regulator’s head confirmed to the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. A representative of the Colorado utility regulator did not comment. Its OK may not have been necessary, since Rocky Mountain Power does not appear to have customers in that state, said Bryce Freeman, the administrator of Wyoming’s Office of Consumer Advocate.
Although some filings at the Wyoming PSC had expressed concerns, the utility regulator gave the project the go-ahead without conditions, Freeman noted in an interview.
The Wyoming Industrial Energy Consumers coalition of companies had expressed concerns. Its members were expected to have included companies such as Air Products and Chemicals, Bayer-Monsanto Co., Church & Dwight Co., Enbridge Energy, ExxonMobil, Phillips 66 Co., Sinclair Oil and Solvay Chemicals, a filing said.
The projects were “being justified on the basis of economics and the forecasted benefits are highly uncertain and occur decades into an unknown future,” according to an expert for the group. Lawyers for the association did not comment now.
Glenrock Energy was another company with operations in our state that had told the PSC of its concerns. The business hopes to install carbon capture equipment at coal-fueled electricity producing facilities.