Phil Anschutz, who owns an oil and gas exploration company among other things is investing big money in a renewable energy project in Wyoming according to the Denver Post. If he gets BLM (Bureau of Land Management) approval, he wants to spend $6 billion to build 1,000 wind turbines on his property in Wyoming. This would probably be the largest single wind project in the nation.
And he would spend another $3 billion to build a 725 mile long transmission line to deliver the power to the southern California Market. This TransWest Power Line would be the longest power line built in decades according to the Denver Post which broke this story Sunday.
The wind project received initial BLM approval in October. About half the turbines will be on public land. The TransWest power-line project also has gained initial federal support, becoming one of seven in the nation selected for fast-track federal permitting.
One problem is officials in California want home-grown renewable energy and they say they don’t want the electricity from this out-of-state project.
"A couple of years ago it looked to us that the future was going to be large wind projects beyond Nevada, but not now," said Matt Burkhart, a San Diego Gas and Electric Vice President. Six renewable-energy projects are going up within driving distance of the utility's headquarters, he told the Denver Post.
Anschutz’s oil and gas exploration company, Anschutz Exploration, owns a 320,000 acre ranch in Wyoming. He planned on putting the land up for sale a couple years ago but decided to build the Sierra Madre and Chokecherry Wind Project instead.
California has the most aggressive renewable energy standard (RES) in the country—33%. The idea is to generate the power on the windy ridges in Wyoming away from people and far from the path of cities and ship the power to California.
California needs the power to help meet the RES. As is always the case, there are other entrepreneurs who want to hog the market by keeping others out.
Wyoming officials have been making the rounds in California trying to sell the project. "All the states are bent on developing their own renewable power, and you can't blame them for that," Loyd Drain, executive director of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority told the Post. "But the good Lord did not make the wind blow the same everywhere."
Another issue, as is always the case with wind projects, is whether the project will adversely affect bald eagles. "This is the biggest project anyone has seen, and it is right on key sage grouse habitat and an area for golden eagles," Erik Molvar, a wildlife biologist with the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance in Laramie told the Post.
The BLM estimates that 46 to 64 eagles could be killed annually by the turbines, Molvar said. To win final approval from the BLM, the wind company must show that the specific turbine sites will not adversely impact wildlife. It has even hired its own biologists.
The elephant in the room remains selling the electricity to California, which will account for two-thirds of the West's renewable energy demand between 2010 and 2020, according to the Western Electricity Coordinating Council, which oversees regional electricity reliability.
Anschutz is no stranger to these type of battles -- he usually comes out on top.
To win over unions, which are strong in California, Anschutz’s wind company entered into partner agreements for jobs with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the International Union of Operating Engineers for the Wyoming project.
While calling the Anschutz wind company "top-notch," Michael O'Sullivan, a vice president with NextEra Energy Resources, one of the nation's largest wind-farm developers, was quoted in the Post saying, "They are facing project-on-project risk. "
Bill Miller, who went from head of Anchutz’s drilling company to the wind company's chief executive officer, told the Post "But one thing we are good at is managing risk, and sometimes we sink a long putt."
At this point the smart money would be on Anschutz. This project will be good for the entire wind energy industry. Hopefully Colorado’s wind manufacturers will be able to supply the towers, blades, and turbines. That would make this project a boon for Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah—and California as well.
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