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Wyoming Energy Sector: Diverse and Sophisticated

Two massive transmission projects under the federal Rapid Response Team for Transmission aim to extend power from Wyoming's wind and traditionals sources to the south and west.

By Pamela Coyle on February 13, 2014

When it comes to energy, Wyoming has the board covered: It is a leader in coal, oil and gas production, and wind energy capacity. It has uranium and rare earth minerals.
Energy innovation accompanies such bountiful resources. Research at the University of Wyoming, Wyoming Research Institute and other institutions on coal gasification, wind flow and turbine optimization put the state on the front lines of what’s next.
Of course, energy without distribution is but hot air, and massive transmission projects are moving forward to spread the wealth, particularly to the south and west.
1,700 Miles of Transmission Lines
TransWest Express LLC, an independent transmission developer, plans to build a 725-mile line that will provide utility companies in California, Nevada and Arizona access to Wyoming’s high-capacity wind energy. The TransWest Express Transmission project, a 600-kilovolt, 3,000-megawatt direct current transmission line, is among those on the fast track.
A separate project includes about 1,000 miles of new 230-kilovolt and 500-kilovolt traditional lines between the Windstar Substation near Glenrock and the Hemingway Substation near Melba, Idaho. A joint effort by Idaho and Rocky Mountain Power, the Energy Gateway West Transmission project will deliver power from traditional and renewable resources to meet growing customer needs.
Both are part of a federal initiative to speed up the lengthy permitting process, which can involve dozens of local, state, federal and tribal agencies. The two Wyoming projects are among seven targeted by the Rapid Response Team for Transmission.
Tapping Wyoming’s Wind Capacity
More efficient energy transmission is key to tapping vast wind resources. Wyoming ranks eighth among states in wind capacity, and could provide up to 113 times the state’s own power consumption needs, according to a National Renewable Energy Laboratory assessment.
A mega-project in the works, with planned generation of 2,000 megawatts to 3,000 megawatts, would double the number of wind turbines on the ground. The Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project will add 1,000 wind turbines on the Overland Trail Ranch, just south of Rawlins. Construction on the $5 billion project is expected to start in late 2014, with production about five years later, according to The Power Co. of Wyoming.
Morley Co., a Jackson-based developer, expects to start producing wind power from its Belvoir Ranch facility near Cheyenne by 2016. The $600 million project, roughly 130 turbines, could produce about 300 megawatts. Pathfinder Renewable Wind Energy is eyeing two Wyoming projects: Pathfinder-Zephyr project (2,100 megawatts) and Whirlwind I (250 to 500 megawatts).
Innovation Through Research
By the time those projects are online, researchers will know a great deal more about wind behavior, blade aerodynamics and turbine placement. How best to lay out large-scale wind farms and consider wake effects from upstream turbines on their downstream counterparts attracted the single-largest number of research papers at the International Conference on Future Technologies for Wind Energy. The conference was hosted by the Wind Energy Research Center at the University of Wyoming in October 2013.
“It is a logical progression,” says Jonathan Naughton, WERC director. “If you are going to do research, you want to do it where you have largest effects. As wind farms have gotten larger, the wake issue has become more important.”
Center researchers also are working on complex modeling, unsteady blade aerodynamics and how to design turbines for a round-the-clock design life of 25 years.
“That is a lot to ask out of a piece of hardware,” Naughton says.
The Energy Innovation Center, also at the University of Wyoming, opened in January 2013 with powerful advanced research tools that support maximizing gas and oil resources as well. A 3-D visualization laboratory and four-walled CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment) model subsurface oil, gas and water movements and interactions.
Separately, Western Research Institute in Laramie targets research, pilot testing and commercialization of advanced energy systems and environmental technologies, often in partnership with client companies. It has three pilot gasification plants evaluating three different technologies, plus a 50-gallon-per-day pilot plant producing liquid fuels from thermochemical reactions.
Driving Wyoming’s Economy
In 2012, Wyoming ranked seventh in production of crude oil and third in production of natural gas. That energy profile helps the state weather ups and downs in both markets. Wyoming also benefits from the shale gas boom in North Dakota, says Bruce Hinchey, president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming.
“Many of the companies located in Wyoming, as well as some of the services companies here, are running crews and equipment back and forth to North Dakota,” he says.
The coal, oil and gas industries continue to drive Wyoming’s economy. Oil and gas companies alone pay half of the total property taxes collected statewide. All minerals, including oil, gas, coal and trona, contribute $1 billion annually in severance taxes, according to the association.
“The vast majority of state tax money comes from minerals,” Hinchey says. “We have lots of minerals, lots of revenue and not a lot of people.”

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