Wyoming 3GW needs HVDC line, but will California buy power?

UNITED STATES: Construction of the 730-mile TransWest Express (TWE) transmission project could start in 2019, if all permits are secured and there is enough electricity demand in California.

Power hungry… Planned transmission line is designed to ship wind power generated in Wyoming to Los Angeles area (pic: Thomas Pintaric)
The privately developed HVDC line would ship wind power from the 3GW Chokecherry and Sierra Madre (CCSM) wind project in Wyoming to the power-hungry Los Angeles area.

State consenting for the TWE is expected in 2018, according to recent testimony submitted by developer Power Company of Wyoming to the Joint Minerals Economic and Business Development Committee of the state legislature in Wyoming. The project, which partially crosses US land, has completed federal permitting.

Power Company of Wyoming is owned by Colorado-based private conglomerate Anschutz Corp, which has deep pockets. TWE has been in the works since 2005. Transmission is notoriously hard to build in the US, especially by non-utilities.

To be economically viable, CCSM needs transmission. Remote and windy Wyoming has a population of less than 600,000, whereas California's is about 40 million and growing fast.

Wyoming had 16.9TWh of total electricity sales in 2015.

The 3GW CCSM project - using a conservative 40% capacity factor - could produce 10.5TWh if fully commissioned, noted Alex Morgan, a wind-energy analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).

"That's roughly two thirds of Wyoming's existing electricity demand, meaning the project would flood the market if it wasn't able to use (the TWE) and had to sell into Wyoming," she said. "Bottom line: the project needs transmission."

The 600kV $3-billion TWE is competing with the proposed Zephyr line, also for transmitting Wyoming wind power to the Los Angeles area and backed by Duke-American Transmission Co, upstart developer Pathfinder Renewable Wind Energy, power-equipment maker Magnum Energy and oilfield-equipment supplier Dresser-Rand.

Neither line is likely to be built. TWE is further advanced.

In California, the major utilities must purchase 50% of their electricity from renewables by 2030. But "the California market for renewables is currently challenging", said Roxane Perruso, vice president and general counsel of Power Co. She described a "missing buyer" syndrome, and blamed it on a lack of demand for renewables in California.

Indeed, the state's renewable portfolio standard (RPS) under the 50% target is "oversupplied through at least the medium term (2023 or later)" as a result of in-state solar proposals, said Rachel Jiang, another analyst at BNEF. In-state renewables may be more likely than Wyoming wind power to find a buyer in California.

A proposal to increase California's RPS to 100% has been debated, but the 2017 legislative session has now ended, and the proposal would have to be reintroduced next year. It is not clear if there is enough political will in California to pass such an aggressive measure.

Phase I construction of the CCSM project is expected to be complete by the end of 2020, with installation of the 500 turbines for the second 1.5GW phase in 2021-2023. The entire wind cluster will be eligible for the full production tax credit, according to Power Co. But the developer would have to prove "continuous construction" to the Internal Revenue Service.