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Transmission & Streaming Disruptions

As the demand for coal wanes, Carbon County sets its sights on a renewable energy project

 A man in a cowboy hat stands behind a podium with the TransWest Express logo on it. The Wyoming flag and TransWest Express logo on a flag fly behind him.
Caitlin Tan
Wyoming Public Media
Governor Gordon speaks to a crowd during the TransWest Express groundbreaking.

Just southeast of Rawlins on the Overland Trail Ranch, federal and local officials broke ground with shovels on the TransWest Express Transmission Project.

It will be a 732-mile powerline that will transfer Wyoming’s wind-generated electricity to the southwest. This is just one way the Biden Administration hopes to achieve 100 percent ‘clean’ energy by 2035.

U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland spoke to a crowd gathered in the sagebrush desert. The wind ripped through 10 flags behind her representing the interest groups, which included the Wyoming, Colorado and California flags – just a few of the states that will benefit from the wind energy.

“We know that clean energy transmission lines and renewable energy projects on public lands will help communities across the country to be part of the climate solution while creating good paying jobs,” Haaland said.

 A crowd of people stands next to a bulldozer looking somewhere off camera.
Caitlin Tan
Wyoming Public Media
A crowd gathers to hear federal and local officials speak about the new powerline.

The project will start on the 320,000-acre private ranch where a wind farm that is in construction is also located. The line will transmit 3,000 megawatts of power generated from the wind and bring it all the way to southern Nevada. That is enough energy to power about a million homes, located everywhere from Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas to Phoenix.

Wyoming’s Governor Mark Gordon was also in attendance. Gordon is usually at odds with the Biden Administration’s push to move away from fossil fuels on public lands. A lawsuit dealing with this is actually still pending.

But, in regard to this wind project, Gordon is on the same page as the feds.

 A street in downtown Rawlins.
Caitlin Tan
Wyoming Public Media
“Because there's an urgency as we see climate change, we know that we don't have time to waste. We have to move with diligence forward to make sure that we address the issue of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere with alacrity, with diligence and with dedication.”

“Because there's an urgency as we see climate change, we know that we don't have time to waste,” he said. “We have to move with diligence forward to make sure that we address the issue of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere with alacrity, with diligence and with dedication.”

This all comes as a stark difference from what Carbon County has known – which is oil, natural gas and coal. U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm acknowledged this.

“We want people to say, ‘Yes. Yes to clean energy,’” she said. “In the same way people have said, ‘Yes to fossil energy.’”

Some people are saying ‘Yes,’ like Rawlins mayor Terry Weickum. He even wore a little windmill pin on his shirt at the event.

 A man in a Hawaiian shirt stands before a raised stage.
Caitlin Tan
Wyoming Public Media
Rawlins Mayor Terry Weickum is excited about the powerline project.

He said the town has been in a “bust” recently as thousands of jobs were lost from the local coal mines closing and the oil fields slowing.

“It is a lucky break for us to get this incredible thing in our mix,” he said. “Some people don't like it. Some people don't like ice cream. I don't know what to tell you.”

Weickum said some people do not like it because renewable projects feel like a threat to the energy industries that historically have been in the area.

“They feel like it's replacing – well the coal is gone,” he said. “And they've been closed. We need it all. We need all the energy sources we can. It's not a competition.”

The TransWest project will bring 1,000 temporary workers over the next decade. And by then, it will be up and running.

At a post-groundbreaking celebration at the local train depot, dozens of residents gather – eating cake, drinking champagne and talking energy. The room rumbled with people talking.

Damien Cesko has lived in Rawlins most of his life and runs a music academy. He is glad the project is coming to the area but understands the hesitations.

“One of the reasons we live here is the wide open spaces, and that's definitely had an effect on some of those things,” Cesko said. “Not everybody in the world necessarily wants to look at windmills.”

 A man stands next to a brick wall.
Caitlin Tan
Wyoming Public Media
Damien Cesko stands outside the Rawlins Train Depot.

Cesko is talking about the nearby wind farm that is currently under construction. If finished as planned, it will be the largest wind farm in the country.

Cesko said as a local business owner, he thinks both projects will bring a much needed boost to the struggling economy in Rawlins.

“Obviously it's gonna be different. But change is always different,” he said. “So you have to take what you can take and then make accommodations and just hope you don't go too far.”

The TransWest Express Transmission project is 18 years in the making. The permitting process and changes in administration took a lot of time. Officials pointed out that future projects will need to be streamlined. Another 18 years and it will be well past the Biden administration’s clean energy deadline of 2035.

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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