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Project looks to improve the reliability of wind energy in Wyoming

A large reservoir with tall hills in the background.
Barry Hammel

A new project known as the Seminoe Pumped Storage Project is looking to increase the reliability of energy generated by wind turbines in Wyoming.

The project uses a technology that's been around since the 1930s, known as pumped storage, to create a kind of battery for wind generated energy. It works by using excess energy produced during high production times to pump water from one reservoir up to another. When the wind isn't blowing and turbines can't produce energy, the water is released back into the lower reservoir, which generates hydropower.

Pumped storage is also not easily impacted by drought because it reuses the water it needs and water levels have to get really low before the equipment can't function, making it viable in the West.

The project would require a new reservoir to be built above Seminoe Reservoir in central Wyoming. It's still in the feasibility study phase, which is being conducted by engineering and design firm Stantec. But rPlus Hydro CEO Matthew Shapiro is optimistic about the location.

"Seminoe Reservoir when it's full is a million acre foot reservoir. So, a project like what we're talking about, if you've got a location near such a reservoir that offers the right kind of vertical drop, and it's close enough, that's a really good basis for a pump storage project," said Shapiro. "From a physical standpoint, the amount of water that we're talking about moving up and down is very, very small compared to the volume of Seminoe Reservoir. And then there's the proximity to all that wind development, which is another big factor, of course."

According to Shapiro, the utility Pacificorp is building a new substation nearby to deliver wind energy to the market and the Seminoe Pumped Storage Project could easily tie into that location.

"I think our timing of coming online around 2029 actually fits really well with three things," Shapiro said. "One is the build out of the wind energy resource. Number two is the retirement of coal plants. And number three is when new transmission is going to be available."

The project would create between 400 to 500 jobs during the four year period of construction. Then, it would give around 30 people long-term jobs. But that's not the only benefit for the state according to Shapiro.

"There's some diversification of the energy base as Wyoming loses coal projects [and] the transition to other sources of energy will hopefully help make up for some of that impact," he said. "So the more wind energy, as well as solar, that utilities start to use in the 2020s, 2030s, and onwards, the more there'll be a need for these types of energy storage projects to help integrate those resources and keep reliable power on the grid."

Ivy started as a science news intern in the summer of 2019 and has been hooked on broadcast ever since. Her internship was supported by the Wyoming EPSCoR Summer Science Journalism Internship program. In the spring of 2020, she virtually graduated from the University of Wyoming with a B.S. in biology with minors in journalism and business. When she’s not writing for WPR, she enjoys baking, reading, playing with her dog, and caring for her many plants.
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