Collection is key, Systems crucial to transmission projects
Cheyenne – While large transmission projects are needed to move energy from Wyoming’s wind projects, Steve Ellenbecker of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority (WIA) says the state is equally in need of an efficient and suitable collector system.
Ellenbecker says his agency is in the midst of work on a collector system plan with the Collector System Task Force, which also includes Rocky Mountain Power, LS Power, TransWest Express, TransCanada, PacifiCorp and the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA).
To date, the WIA, which has a statutory mission to promote transmission development and the related generation and resource development, has funded an analysis of collector system designs released February 2010.
“That first phase of the study made the determination that we could build the grid and it would be reliable, even up to 12,000 megawatts of new power generation,” says Ellenbecker. “We found it to be a reliable grid that would work to connect our resources.”
He says the study looked at radial versus network configurations.
“In a radial configuration, straight lines would reach out from a transmission substation and load electricity straight into the substation,” he explains. “A network would connect the major wind generation hubs, with an interconnected grid where all the parts and pieces are connected among wind projects, and maybe among transmission projects.”
He says both configurations were found to be reliable.
“So far it’s conceptual, but we’re continuing with that work through a consulting firm and a new contract funded by U.S. Department of Energy stimulus funds,” says Ellenbecker of the next phase. “This new stage of work is yet a closer look at what would be the intermediate-level transmission grid in Wyoming, connecting the primary wind generation resource to the transmission projects.”
He notes the WIA is also working on business models. “There’s no clear entity that would be the regulator over the system, or come forward to be the owner. Is it a consortium? A third party that would get into the business? Or is it a partnership between the transmission and wind developers in a cooperative fashion? All that is yet to be determined.”
As far as the relation between private landowners and the collector system, Ellenbecker says that all depends on the objective of the landowner.
“If they’ve got a goal to have a wind project built, they’re more likely to be in a supportive role, while if they’re a landowner concerned about what transmission might cross their land, it flips to the question of right-of-way and what it takes to negotiate crossing those lands,” he says. “It’s the same issue as for a major transmission project, on a somewhat smaller scale.”
The Wyoming Legislature in its 2010 session enacted a one-year moratorium on the use of eminent domain for collector systems while the Legislature and the Wind Energy Task Force evaluate the criteria under which eminent domain can be used.
“Condemnation is not broadly exercised by any means, and experience in history shows every effort is made to avoid that,” says Ellenbecker. “It’s a last resort, but it’s been temporarily removed by the Wyoming Legislature for collector systems.”
The Wind Energy Task Force will meet several times through 2010, with their first meeting scheduled for Wheatland in June.
“In terms of their examination of criteria for eminent domain, compensation will be front and center,” notes Ellenbecker, adding that compensation is also a focus of the Governor.
Ellenbecker says 10 years ago there were no new projects proposed in the state, and as recently as 2004 there was a feasibility study on whether or not new projects were even economically viable.
“Now we have real projects with real names, and it’s unprecedented the amount of new projects being planned,” he says.
Currently Wyoming has six major transmission projects in the works, including the TransWest Express project by Anschutz, the Zephyr project by TransCanada, the Gateway project sponsored by PacifiCorp, the Overland Intertie project by LS Power, the Wyoming – Colorado Intertie project cosponsored by WIA and the High Plains Express project under evaluation by a consortium of 11 participants.
“The TransWest Express project recently entered an agreement with WAPA, which has a broad footprint in Wyoming related to managing hydropower produced through dams,” says Ellenbecker. “They have a network of transmission across Wyoming already. WAPA is a 50 percent equity partner in that project, which increases its likelihood of success.”
Ellenbecker says the Zephyr project is just finishing up the open season process, where they’ve invited bids for capacity rights on the line.
“If the open season was successful, that would likely enable the Zephyr project to go forward,” he comments, noting TransCanada should be in the final days of evaluating the bids.
Regarding the Gateway project, Ellenbecker says the project is, in part, already before the state regulatory commissions.
“That project’s farthest along, and I would call it most likely to be built, because of its current status before the BLM, which is already approaching a draft Environmental Impact Statement for public distribution,” he says. “They’re getting to the point where they could approach construction in 2012 on the Wyoming segment.”
Ellenbecker says he doesn’t know whether there will be proposals for more large transmission projects in Wyoming in the near future.
“The current proposals are so large they would require major new generation projects to feed them. It’s realistic to say that, for right now, we’ve got an abundance of projects already facing challenges of financing and finding customers in the marketplace,” he says.
Ellenbecker says the advantages of today’s transmission projects extend into the future to a new era of generation technologies.
“Even today’s electric service is provided over transmission towers and lines that are 50 years old, and these proposed projects may have a life of 50 to 80 years,” he says. “We’re talking about projects that can serve multiple eras of new generation resources, not just the first project built.”
He mentions advanced coal technology and new gas-fired electric generation as possibilities in the future.
“Right now the opportunity is present for wind developers – and they’ve got to have new transmission – but in the longer term it opens up a new era of power generation resources,” adds Ellenbecker. “The core of Wyoming’s economy is built around the export of energy resources, and what we’re talking about is a key link to one of the aspects of future energy development.”
Christy Hemken is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.