Transwest Express transmission line moves forward in Moffat County
CRAIG — The proposed Transwest Express transmission line would carry 3,000 megawatts of energy generated by a yet-to-be-completed wind farm in Wyoming to the Las Vegas area, where it would be distributed to consumers in Nevada, Arizona and southern California.
The project would allow the power to make its way south along a 730-mile path. It has an estimated price tag of $3 billion, and it would connect the nation’s largest wind farm to California, a state hungry to acquire renewable-energy. The project is being planned by Transwest Express LLC, an affiliate of Denver-based billionaire Phillip Anschutz’s Anschutz Corporation.
Construction of the project was originally slated to begin in 2016, but environmental impact statements developed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management took six years to develop.
Last year, the BLM issued a record of decision that approved a final route through federal lands and outlined additional terms and conditions the company must meet to proceed to construction, including a plan to mitigate the line’s impact to greater sage grouse habitat. Transwest must also complete a cultural resource survey, which requires someone walk the ground looking for artifacts to ensure the project would not damage archaeological resources.
Transwest is now working to secure right-of-way permissions on the state, municipal and private lands the proposed line would cross.
In the next few months, the company anticipates it will begin making offers to Moffat County landowners for rights-of-way. Offers have already been made in Utah.
As the route on federal lands has been set, Transwest must now connect the line through state-owned and private lands. Concerns have been raised that eminent domain might be used to achieve this.
Western Area Power Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Energy, is a partner on the project. As a federal agency, the WAPA has the authority to use eminent domain to route the line through private land if landowners are unwilling to negotiate. Were this to happen, the landowners would receive payment at fair market value for the rights-of-way.
The transmission line played a role in Maybell landowner Lyn McCormick’s recent move. Her land is slated to be in the path of the transmission line. When the opportunity to move to a neighboring ranch appeared, McCormick took it.
McCormick said she couldn’t see fighting the line, especially since it’s backed by Phillip Anschutz.
Garry Miller, vice president of land and environmental affairs for TransWest Express LLC, said the company hopes to complete needed permits and permissions by 2019 to begin construction in 2020. Miller estimated it would take about three years to build the transmission line. Transwest representatives met with the county earlier this week to discuss applying for a conditional use permit from the county.
“It scares me, because it seems to get pushed back more and more,” said Commissioner Don Cook.
Transwest has said the county would receive $600,000 to $900,000 in annual property tax revenues from the line, but this income wouldn’t start flowing into the county until electrons start flowing through the lines.
Miller and his associates also presented some of the structures that would be used in Moffat County. These include 296 guyed lattice towers that would be anchored to the ground with cables. On BLM land, where Transwest must follow directives to mitigate impacts to sage grouse, the company will use 74 heavier, single-pole tubular structures. Miller said these structures provide fewer areas for predators, such as raptors and crows, to perch.
These towers would carry two lines of direct-current electricity and a line of fiber optic cable that would transmit data on the power line’s systems. About every 50 miles, a small building would be built to boost the signals running through the fiber optics cable.
The project would also require improvements to 16 miles of road on private land and 65 miles of roads on public land. It would also build 11 miles of new access roads on private land and 63 miles of new road on public land. Sixteen miles of these roads would be temporary and used only for construction.
Other construction facilities include three 20-acre storage yards, 20 six-acre staging areas and up to four portable concrete plants.
A learn-by-doing methodology was on display Friday at the Loudy-Simpson Park pond as Moffat County High School science students learned quickly whether or not they had a future in engineering.