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Power line projects approved in Wyoming, experts say will support wind development in the state

A wind farm operates a few miles north of the Center Mine and its adjacent power plant.
Amy Sisk
A wind farm operates a few miles north of the Center Mine and its adjacent power plant.

Final approval was given to move forward with a 416-mile power line that will transfer Wyoming’s renewable electricity across the West.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) gave PacifiCorp the ‘OK’ last week, to proceed with construction on the Energy Gateway South transmission line. The intention is for the line to carry wind energy from wind farms in Medicine Bow to central Utah.

This comes on the tail end of approval for two other power lines originating in Wyoming that will transfer wind energy. They include a segment of PacifiCorp’s Gateway West line and the TransWest Express, which is funded by the Anschutz Corp.

Robert Godby, the interim dean at the University of Wyoming College of Business and associate professor, said transmission lines are a way to create a more flexible power grid, as opposed to the traditional method.

“It was kind of like a one way road, you had a coal plant and a city, and the power flowed from the coal plant to the city, period,” Godby said. “Now you've got to move power all around.”

Gateway South is part of PacifiCorp’s larger renewable energy transfer plan called Energy Gateway, initially launched in 2007. If everything receives approval, the plan will eventually include 2,000 miles of power line that will connect Wyoming to Utah, Idaho and Washington.

“What was a coal based system, where the power was generated in Wyoming and sent to the other states, is now moving towards a renewable system,” Godby said.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, about 64 percent of energy exported in Wyoming is coal-fired, and 31 percent is renewables. But back in 2008 the numbers were 94 percent and 3.8 percent, respectively.

“The decline of coal is largely due to the fact that the rest of the country either doesn't want to use coal or they're not replacing coal plants, because coal isn't the cheapest source of electricity anymore – it used to be,” Godby said. “Now it's renewables. When the wind is available, it's free, assuming you've put the system up.”

Glen Murrell, the executive director of the Wyoming Energy Authority, said the agency supports the effort.

“The state has to find ways for all of our resources to be utilized effectively – natural resources, as well as existing infrastructure and developed infrastructure,” Murrell said. “There is room to play for all energy forms within the state.”

Murrell said prior to this project, there was not an efficient way to transport a lot of wind energy to Western states.

“We certainly have a lot of high quality wind and other renewable resources, as well,” Murrell said. “The problem is that it is difficult to get that to market.”

Work on Gateway South is expected to begin in June and be in service by 2025.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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