Suddenly everybody is talking about Wyoming wind energy, and for good reason. The state is one of the epicenters of coal production in the US, but it is also blessed with rich wind resources. Wind farms have plenty of room to blossom in Wyoming. If you’re thinking that the state’s low population won’t be able to suck up all that extra juice, no worries. Power-thirsty California is just a short hop away and a new transmission line is in the works.
Irony Alert: Massive Wind Farms Grow In Carbon County, Wyoming
The two wind farms first crossed the CleanTechnica radar in 2015. With up to 500 wind turbines each, the plan is for a capacity of up to 3,000 megawatts combined. The land is located on parts of a massive cattle ranch operated by the Overland Trail Cattle Company in Carbon County.
The project actually dates back to a 2008 proposal, which was greenlighted by the US Department of the Interior in 2012. Here’s the developer, Wyoming Power Company, celebrating:
“This is a unique site ideally suited for larger-scale, lower-impact, least-cost renewable energy development that fully aligns with federal land use goals and federal energy goals,” said Bill Miller, PCW president and CEO. “The Record of Decision milestone moves us closer to having bulk supplies of clean, cost-effective electricity available to serve nearly 1 million U.S. homes – and in a timeframe well ahead of the RPS targets set by California and other Western states.”
The project passed another significant milestone in the final days of the Obama administration, with a finding of “no new significant impacts” for Phase I.
Except for a winter hiatus, work is currently under way and the turbines could be up within a year or so.
A Wind Energy Love Letter From Wyoming To California
Construction of a new transmission line for the two wind farms is expected to get under way in 2019.
That’s not quite as straightforward as its sounds. Last September, the Casper Star-Tribune noted that California’s renewable energy policies could make it difficult for Wyoming to sell wind energy into that market.
On a more positive note, last week James Temple of MIT Technology Review explored the idea of a renewable energy exchange with solar-rich California:
With the right deals in place, the transmission line could deliver solar-generated electricity back as well, balancing Wyoming’s powerful late-afternoon winds with California’s bright daytime sun.
The planned transmission line, the TransWest Express, has been in the works since 2005. The idea is to thread a high-voltage, direct current line from Wyoming to Nevada and Arizona as well as California. The developer, TransWest Express, is already on to the energy exchange idea:
…Wyoming’s high-capacity wind energy resources complement California’s renewables, providing geographic diversity that helps Californians not only save money but also achieve GHG emissions reduction goals.
The cost advantage of the exchange is pretty clear, as it would mitigate the need for additional energy storage.
AC (alternating current) is a more familiar form of long-distance transmission, but there are good reasons why DC (direct current) was selected for the new line. Initially, AC became the industry standard because it allows for getting the electricity down off the high wire and into buildings. The tradeoff, though, is that AC lines lose significantly more power over long distances, compared to DC.
Temple notes that next-generation DC technology is catching up to AC, with an additional benefit:
Crucially, direct-current lines can also be used to transmit power between “asynchronous” alternating-current systems like the nation’s three major regional grids, which otherwise can’t share power.
Under Trump’s Nose, Grid Modernization Initiative Grows
Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s notorious “grid study” and followup proposals for protecting coal grabbed a lot of headlines in 2017, but a far more intensive grid initiative is also under way at the Energy Department. That would be GMI, the Grid Modernization Initiative, which is exploring pathways for a seamless national grid (not for nothing but Perry’s grid study did include a hefty dose of good news about renewables in general and wind energy in particular).
GMI is particularly interested in renewable energy integration, as Temple notes:
With direct-current lines, grid operators have more options for energy sources throughout the day, allowing them to tap into, say, cheap wind two states away during times of peak demand instead of turning to nearby but more expensive natural-gas plants for a few hours. The fact that regions can depend on energy from distant states for their peak demand also means they don’t have to build as much high-cost generation locally.
And, here’s a snippet from the GMI home page at energy.gov:
Our portfolio of work will help integrate all sources of electricity better, improve the security of our nation’s grid, solve challenges of energy storage and distributed generation, and provide a critical platform for U.S. competitiveness and innovation in a global energy economy. The grid of the future will deliver resilient, reliable, flexible, secure, sustainable, and affordable electricity.
What’s In It For Wyoming?
The article profiled the King Ranch in Cheyenne, home to more than a dozen wind turbines since 2007. Do read the full piece for full details. For those of you on the go, here’s a pithy observations by owner Mark Eisele:
“It’s preserved the environment, it’s brought family back to the ranch, and it’s brought stability to our economic situation.”
Eisele’s daughter Kendall Roberts, who runs the ranch with the help of a master’s degree in agriculture economics, elaborates on the benefits:
“With the down markets with cattle, there is no guarantee that you’ll be making any money for income to provide for the essentials,” she said.
“Just like in the ag industry with land owners, we’ve got to diversity our income — same with the state of Wyoming. We’ve got to diversify the jobs and the income and the energy growth,” she said.
Writer Kristine Galloway also notes that the turbine-related income paid for new equipment, purchase of the neighboring ranch, a new irrigation system that resulted in a savings of 20% for water and 60% for power, and additional water resource upgrades that are attracting more wildlife to the area.
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Image: via TransWest Express.
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