Cheyenne Light, and the west's momentum
- Aug 6, 2022 6:15 pm GMT
Transmission is really rolling out west. Last week, the Wyoming Public Service Commission announced a hearing date for Cheyenne Light’s transmission proposal. The hearing is set to take place on August 22nd. Here’s how the project is described in an article over at the Wyoming Business Report:
“The power line project sometimes goes by the name Ready Wyoming. Black Hills Energy, which is called Cheyenne Light, Fuel and Power Co. locally, says the initiative will cost $258 million, "which will be funded with internally generated funds and short-term borrowing from the Black Hills Corporation utility money pool," the agency recounted. The firm estimates $130 million-plus in customer cost savings from the project over its first 15 years.”
“The company wants to start construction in next year's first quarter, with the project in full service by the end of 2025. It involves a new substation, two replacement ones and three 230-kilovolt transmission lines in Converse, Goshen, Laramie and Platte counties in Wyoming and in Nebraska's Scotts Bluff County.”
This summer has been a busy time for power infrastructure in America’s west. In June, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission okayed 5 segments for Xcel’s Colorado Power Pathway transmission project, which, if all goes as planned, would consist of loops of up to 650 miles of high-voltage transmission lines stretching from the Fort St. Vrain gas-fueled plant near Platteville and to the southeastern plains. In May, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced that they’d given PacifiCorp permission to continue its Energy Gateway South Transmission project. The 416-mile power line is planned to run through Wyoming, Colorado, and into Utah. The Gateway South line is part of the utility’s broader plan to install 2,000 miles of transmission lines across the West.
Why are these decisions so important? Because, as most of you probably know, transmission development moves at a snail's pace in this country. Just consider this fact reported in an Atlantic article last year: “Since 2009, China has built more than 18,000 miles of ultrahigh-voltage transmission lines. The U.S. has built zero.”
The reasons for our transmission stagnation are complicated, but a big part of the blame lies with America’s special community input mechanisms. Although well-intentioned, they too often allow small minorities of loud complainers bring down projects that would provide net benefit to society.
This problem was explained in a very good Atlantic article earlier this year:
“The community-input process is disastrous for two broad reasons. First, community input is not representative of the local population. Second, the perception of who counts as part of an affected local community tends to include everyone who feels the negative costs of development but only a fragment of the beneficiaries.
Not everybody is a complainer, but pretty much everyone who shows up to community meetings is. Katherine Einstein, David Glick, and Maxwell Palmer, Boston University political scientists and co-authors of Neighborhood Defenders, examined zoning and planning meetings across Massachusetts. They found that a measly 14.6 percent of people who showed up to these events were in favor of the relevant projects. Meeting participants were also 25 percentage points more likely to be homeowners and were significantly older, maler, and whiter than their communities.”
We see these pernicious community input mechanisms sideline important transmission projects far too frequently.
The New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) has been perhaps the most high profile of embattled transmission projects. For those who don’t know, NECEC is a transmission line that would transport hydropower from Quebec to the Massachusetts grid. The NECEC would have a big impact on Massachusetts’ energy portfolio. The transmission project promised to transport 9.45 million MWh of electricity from Hydro-Quebec to Massachusetts every year. That would account for around 8% of the electricity used in all of New England, powering close to 1.2 million homes.
The failure of such projects spells failure for renewables in North America. We desperately need more power lines to get wind and solar energy from where it’s created to the big metropolitan areas where it’s consumed. This fragmentation problem was recently highlighted in a Texas Tribune article on why wind energy farmed in the Texas high plains stays in the high plains.
Hopefully Cheyenne Light gets the go ahead to start their transmission project. After so many decades of transmission stagnation, we have no time to lose.
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