TransWest Express draft EIS delayed

The draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for the proposed 725-mile TransWest Express, a 600-kV HVDC line to transport renewable energy across four Western states, will be delayed to the spring of 2013.

Word of the delay came from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which is developing the document in concert with the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA).

“After meeting with [cooperating agencies] and hearing comments from our first internal draft, we have … added additional [route] alternatives into the project that we are analyzing, and that takes time,” Sharon Knowlton, BLM project manager for TransWest Express, told TransmissionHub on August 6.

The additional route alternatives will address potential impacts on sensitive areas that were identified by cooperating agencies, including counties and cities, conservation districts, federal agencies, and individual state governments along the route.

In addition, several agencies asked the BLM to identify a preferred route alternative, a task that is problematic because of the size and scope of the project. DEIS documents generally identify preferred alternative routes for smaller projects; they are less common in larger projects.

“For a large project, that’s a complicated process,” she said. “We are working very hard to develop sufficient information to do that, so the public can see a preferred alternative in that draft document.”

BLM did not identify a preferred alternative for the Gateway West project to allow the public to see the full range of alternatives and have them help in making that determination, according to a BLM spokesperson.

“We’re going to make an effort to get that identified in the draft so that the public can see what we’re looking at,” Knowlton said. ”That is the goal, and we’ll see if we can meet that goal.” The delay in issuing the DEIS should not, however, delay the project itself.

“We still anticipate, and the schedule still calls for, a final EIS record of decision in 2014, and that hasn’t changed,” a spokesperson for co-developer TransWest Express, LLC, told TransmissionHub on August 6. “We still feel our line will be in service well ahead of California’s [renewable portfolio standard] RPS deadline (of 2020), as well as those of other states in that area.”

BLM officials are hopeful that the additional time spent on the DEIS will save time later in the process. “We hope it will affect the NEPA process in a positive way,” Knowlton said, referring to the National Environmental Policy Act.

According to TransmissionHub data, the project itself is a joint venture between TransWest Express, LLC and WAPA. Each company will contribute $25m to fund the development stage of the project, which has been identified for fast-track treatment by the Obama Administration’s Rapid Response Team for Transmission.

Total cost of the project is estimated at $3bn. The current schedule anticipates construction activities will begin in 2014.