History and background
From its earliest days, the TransWest Express Transmission Project has focused on collaboration, consultation and concern for meeting the growing energy needs of the Desert Southwest.
The TWE Project was initiated by Arizona Public Service Company in 2005. The project was inspired in part by the Rocky Mountain Area Transmission Study, which identified the potential for communities in the western United States to access the rich renewable energy resources in the Rocky Mountains through the development of major transmission lines. APS also performed several routing and planning studies and held a series of stakeholder meetings. (Example presentation here.)
The three project sponsors agreed with PacifiCorp to jointly study the TWE Project along with PacifiCorp’s Gateway South transmission project – a 500kV AC transmission line that roughly follows a similar route as the TWE Project, from Wyoming to central Utah into Nevada. Together, the group analyzed several conceptual design alternatives to satisfy the combined need for the two projects; developed a conceptual design for each project; performed a comprehensive corridor study for the projects; and submitted coordinated right-of-way applications to the Bureau of Land Management.
The group also jointly conducted the Western Electricity Coordinating Council's Regional Planning Project Review for the two projects and entered the projects into the WECC rating process in January 2008. This process ensures that new projects are properly integrated into the existing transmission grid.
National Grid sponsored an economic analysis by PA Consulting in 2008, which illustrated the economic viability of the TWE Project delivering renewable energy to southern California, Arizona and Nevada. National Grid prepared a similar yet more expansive analysis that was released in July 2008: The West's Renewable Energy Future, A Contribution by National Grid.
Also in July, TransWest Express LLC was formed – wholly owned by The Anschutz Corporation – to hold and develop electric transmission assets. TransWest acquired the development rights to the TWE Project from APS, National Grid and the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority. APS continues to participate in the project in an advisory role, and it retains an option to participate in the TWE Project.
Since acquiring the TWE Project, TransWest has aggressively pursued the next phase of development through its permitting and WECC rating activities. TransWest filed an Amended ROW Application with the BLM in December 2008 and an Amended Preliminary Plan of Development in January 2009.
By spring 2009, interagency pre-scoping activities and meetings had been conducted by BLM with 15 Bureau of Land Management field offices and five United States Forest Service offices that administer lands within the Environmental Impact Statement study area. Additional meetings were held with other key federal, state and local entities in subsequent months.
TransWest continued the WECC rating process, and the company completed and submitted its WECC Phase 1 Comprehensive Progress Report in October. TransWest continued to coordinate with PacifiCorp and other Northern Tier Transmission Group members as part of the rating process.
In January, TransWest filed an updated Preliminary Right-of-Way application with BLM, amending TransWest's 2008 ROW document, and by midsummer TransWest had submitted an updated Preliminary Plan of Development as well to amend its 2009 POD. BLM also began communications with all eligible federal, state and county entities who elected to become Cooperating Agencies for the TWE Project.
In February, the TWE Project was granted Phase 2 status in the ongoing WECC rating process, and the Phase 2 confirmation supported a Planned Rating of 3,000 megawatts for the transmission line.
In March, Western Area Power Administration decided to pursue a 50 percent equity partnership in the TWE Project, as part of Western's Transmission Infrastructure Program. Western also later became a joint lead agency with BLM on the preparation of the EIS.
BLM/Western held 23 public scoping open houses in Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and Nevada, following their Notice of Intent to Prepare an EIS published Jan. 4, 2011, in the Federal Register. Public scoping feedback and ongoing analysis continued to inform their work on the Draft EIS document throughout 2011.
In August, WECC released its U.S. Department of Energy-funded "10-Year Regional Transmission Plan," and economic analysis conducted as part of the plan showed the TWE Project can provide the most cost-effective remote renewable energy resource alternative to satisfy a portion of California's needs.
In September, Western Area Power Administration signed an agreement with TransWest to co-fund the TWE Project's development phase. Western will decide whether to continue its participation into the construction phase after the environmental analysis is complete. More good news for the project followed in the fall, when the TWE Project was selected by a new federal "Rapid Response Team for Transmission" as one of five priority transmission projects in the Western U.S. and the only one to connect into California balancing authorities.
Members of the federal Rapid Response Team for Transmission conducted site visits in January with the lead agencies and cooperating agencies on the TWE Project in Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and Nevada, to identify where the RRTT could assist in the permitting process.
Partnering agreements for the development and construction of the TWE Project were signed with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the International Union of Operating Engineers.
Throughout the year, BLM/Western continued their environmental analysis and work on the EIS, in conjunction with cooperating agencies. In October, BLM/Western published their third public newsletter, showing an updated map of alternative corridors under consideration. (TransWest's proposed corridor for the TWE Project remained the same.) The newsletter said the agencies "anticipate the Draft EIS will be available for a public review in late spring 2013."
BLM/Western held 13 public meetings/hearings in Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and Nevada as part of a 90-day public comment period following their Notice of Availability of the Draft EIS published July 3, 2013, in the Federal Register.
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In the news
"We need to get aggressive on building the electron superhighway. If we are not able to move forward with availability of transmission, we can study the potential of solar and wind and geothermal until the cows come home and it's not going to get done."
- Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, March 2009, in response to questions at a hearing before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources