Final EIS for Gateway West delayed

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has delayed the release of the final environmental impact statement (FEIS) for the proposed Gateway West transmission project, an 1,100-mile line planned to connect a substation near Glenrock, Wyo., to a substation near Melba, Idaho.

The agency put what is being described as a “short hold” on the release of the final EIS to discuss additional information that was developed through the final EIS process. That includes information provided to the BLM by Idaho Governor Butch Otter and others, according to a source within Idaho state government who spoke to TransmissionHub on background.

“We’re still discussing various issues associated with the project with the Washington [D.C.] office,” Walt George, BLM project manager, told TransmissionHub Jan. 28. “When they feel that those have been thoroughly considered and vetted, they will give the go-ahead to release the final document.”

George expects the delay to be “a matter of weeks, not months.”

The government source said Governor Otter contacted the officer of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and wanted to discuss the information with the secretary directly.

“There was quite a lot of comment that needed to be taken into account before they could publish the final EIS,” the source said. “They’re trying to take into account all of those comments and all that information.”

The Gateway West project is proposed by Rocky Mountain Power and Idaho Power to upgrade the region’s transmission system. The BLM’s web site says, under many conditions, the existing transmission lines in the West are already at full capacity. As evidence, the BLM cites circumstances during the summer of 2007, when “[T]here were 14 days when energy use was at capacity, where a transmission line outage would have forced Idaho Power to implement rotating customer outages,” according to the website.

On Dec. 7, 2012, the BLM released a new preferred alternative for the line that included an adjustment to accommodate the Shoshone-Bannock Indian tribes, which said the previous alignment would have hurt natural and cultural resources.

Other concerns also came into play.

“We’re trying to avoid sage grouse habitat, we’re trying to avoid the Bird of Prey National Conservation Area,” George said. “Unfortunately, when you avoid those sorts of public resources, you end up looking at alternatives that are principally on private land, which is the crux of the siting issue.”

According to TransmissionHub data, the project extends from the Windstar substation near Glenrock, Wyo., to the Hemingway substation near Melba, Idaho. The Gateway West project, which involves nearly 800 miles of 500-kV and nearly 300 miles of 230-kV circuits, is expected to be energized in 2018.

The project will help supply energy to customers and improve electric system reliability by enabling delivery of electricity from existing and new generating resources, including renewable resources such as wind, BLM said on its project website.

Gateway West is one of seven pilot projects targeted by the Obama Administration’s Rapid Response Team for Transmission (RRTT). The RRTT consists of nine federal agencies and will work to accelerate the permitting and construction of the selected transmission lines.

Rocky Mountain Power is a subsidiary of PacifiCorp. Idaho Power is a subsidiary of IDACORP (NYSE:IDA).