DATC’s $3.5bn Zephyr project to largely follow existing corridors

Duke-American Transmission Company (DATC) has unveiled the proposed route corridor for the Zephyr Power Transmission Project that will extend 850 miles from Wyoming to Nevada and transmit up to 3,000 MW of renewable energy to the Southwest.

“The proposed route was developed over the past several years based on criteria from several federal and environmental agencies,” a DATC spokesperson told TransmissionHub March 27. DATC identified the pre-application proposed route corridor after identifying and reviewing more than 200 environmental and land use constraints.

As proposed, the $3.5bn, 500-kV HVDC project will begin at the Pathfinder Wind Energy Development near Chugwater, Wyo., cross portions of Colorado and Utah, and terminate near the Eldorado Valley, just south of Las Vegas.

The preferred corridor includes alternate route options in mid- to southern Utah that could result in moving the alignment farther west or farther east than the primary proposed route.

While the precise alignment will be determined after meetings with landowners and other stakeholders, DATC officials said the proposed corridor demonstrates the company’s commitment “to minimizing the project’s impact on land, ecosystems, wildlife and communities.”

“Approximately 80% of the proposed route follows existing utility or federal corridors, with 20% on proposed future utility routes,” including a postion of the route proposed for the TransWest Express project, the spokesperson said. The proposed route avoids populated areas, critical wildlife habitats, military bases, and other environmentally or culturally sensitive areas, according to the company’s project website.

The next step for the company, which is a joint venture between Duke Energy (NYSE:DUK) and American Transmission Company (ATC), is to host 18 public open houses during April in cities and towns along the corridor from southeastern Wyoming to southern Nevada.

“Our primary reasons are to inform the public about the project early in its development and to solicit public input on any possible constraints or issues along that route that we should consider prior to [commencing] the federal permitting process,” the spokesperson said. “There may be some further route adjustment based on what we learn from the public and other stakeholders.”

After the open houses, DATC will review the comments it obtains and assess the feasibility of making any route adjustments that might be identified as necessary or desirable. It will then finalize the route that will be used in the federal regulatory review and project permitting process, which will be led by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The federal process will be initiated when the company files a plan of development, which it plans to do later this year.

“That federal process, which will include environmental studies and further public involvement, will probably last up to three years,” the spokesperson noted, adding, “We’re at the beginning of the process.”

A National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review will be included in the process.

The company also plans to initiate federal and state right-of-way permitting in mid-2013.

If the project is approved and receives all of its permits, DATC anticipates beginning construction in 2017, with an anticipated in-service date of 2020.

DATC in December 2011 acquired the Zephyr project from a subsidiary of Pathfinder Renewable Wind Energy, at the time doubling its portfolio. The joint venture on March 11 announced its intention to purchase Atlantic Power Corp.’s 72% ownership in the Path 15 transmission line for $56m.