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Last Wind Farm Of Pacificorp's Energy Vision 2020 Plan Comes Online

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.

A utility has just put its largest wind farm in its system online here in Wyoming. The TB Flats wind farm, located in Carbon County in southern Wyoming, can create up to 503.2 megawatts (MW) of power from 132 wind turbines. Based on its original 2018 permit application, that could power around 152,000 homes. It's the last project to go online stemming from Pacificorp's Energy Vision 2020 plan that created more than 1000 MW of new wind energy. Wyoming Public Radio’s Cooper McKim speaks with the utility spokesman Dave Eskelsen.

Dave Eskelsen: It's the last wind project to come online, stemming from our Energy Vision 2020 project. And that was a key part of our strategy stemming from the 2017 Integrated Resource Plan. And being able to capture production tax credits for those projects greatly reduce the cost of them for our customers. So, we wanted to be able to take advantage of that for 2020. And, of course, along with the three new wind projects was the re-powering of all of our existing wind projects, plus the completion of some very important segments of the Energy Gateway transmission project. And all of that's been done now.

Cooper McKim: Okay, so this is really a concluding moment for Rocky Mountain Power?

Eskelsen: Well, it is. There are some details on the construction and commercial operation details that we do around these projects. So, there's still some details to do before things are really done. But all of those wind projects are now generating electricity.

McKim: In my head, when all of these turbines go online, it's some dramatic flipping of the switch, where all of it starts slowly rolling into reality. What is it actually?

Eskelsen: Well, generally, it's a process. Once the turbines themselves are constructed, they go through a period of testing. Each one. And connections are made to the substation at the site where the generating output from all of those different turbines is gathered and put on the company's transmission network.

And then, of course, there are control systems to be tested. It's not like it's a big switch that is flipped. But generally, when these projects are completed, there is a point at which they've passed the testing phase and the operational phase, and then there's a period of time where they are operating in kind of a test mode, but they are producing electricity for customers. And then once all of those final arrangements have been made, we classify them as commercially operational. And that has yet to happen for TB Flats, but it will happen soon.

McKim: The Energy Vision 2020 plan was one thing, is this larger renewal national view proposal... is that a part of a larger next step?

Eskelsen: Well, one of the things that has been happening really in the last three or four Integrated Resource Planning cycles is that the economics of renewable energy, and renewable energy with storage, has scored really well in terms of its overall cost to customers, which is one of the major metrics we use in our resource planning.

The other major metric we have is reliability. So, as we plan for the future, we try to anticipate what our customers are going to need 10-20 years into the future. Now, that's pretty difficult to forecast exactly. But we do try to make the best forecasts we can. And it's also one of the reasons why the resource plan is updated every other year. Because that's always changing. And we want to be able to make sure that our planning is refreshed regularly, so that we provide what customers need when they need it.

The balancing of customer need day-to-day, hour-to-hour against our generation output, because that has to be balanced, every minute of every day, is a critical part of the job we do.

McKim: Okay, well thanks Dave.

Eskelsen: Okay, thanks a lot.

Before Wyoming, Cooper McKim has reported for NPR stations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and South Carolina. He's reported breaking news segments and features for several national NPR news programs. Cooper is the host of the limited podcast series Carbon Valley. Cooper studied Environmental Policy and Music. He's an avid jazz piano player, backpacker, and podcast listener.
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