Final EIS for Gateway West includes option for ‘phased approval’

The final environmental impact statement (EIS) for the proposed Gateway West Transmission Project that will run from eastern Wyoming to western Idaho includes the option of approving the project in phases, rather than approving or denying the entire project, potentially allowing various permitting agencies to reach consensus over siting one or more of the route’s 10 segments.

Totaling nearly 4,200 pages, the main EIS document and 15 appendicles were published by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) April 26, and include a thorough analysis of the agency’s preferred routes for the project. Those routes, which were identified in late 2012 but not included in the draft EIS, are still being discussed and debated by various parties along the project’s nearly 1,000 mile path.

“The route in Wyoming is pretty much OK with all parties concerned,” a BLM spokesperson told TransmissionHub April 26, noting that remaining issues in that state are minimal. However, “some local governments and the state of Idaho have a different point of view [on our preferred route]. We would still like to take the opportunity to work those out and find a happy medium.”

To enable portions of the project to move forward without obtaining consensus on the entire project, BLM included in the final EIS the option of a bifurcated decision. Such “phased approval” would allow BLM to approve portions of the project while approval of other portions was still pending, provided that the portions approved could be operated independently of the other portions.

“That would mean we would potentially make approval of those portions where there is no disagreement whatsoever, then have a second decision later down the road for the portions where we are still collaborating with local governments,” the spokesperson said.

BLM is asking the public to comment about a potential phased approval as part of the final EIS review process.

Such an approach could dovetail with the developers’ plans, as Gateway West project developers have proposed it and planned it in segments, according to the BLM spokesperson.

As proposed by Rocky Mountain Power and Idaho Power, the Gateway West project would connect Glenrock, Wyo., with the Hemingway substation about 30 miles south of Boise, Idaho. It would include 10 segments of new transmission, totaling approximately 990 miles of new 230-kV and 500-kV line, as well as three new substations. The project would be capable of moving up to 1,500 MW of energy and is intended to relieve operating limitations on existing transmission lines, increase capacity and improve reliability in the region, according to the final EIS.

The final EIS also includes a thorough analysis of the preferred routes proposed by BLM.

The preferred route through Wyoming closely follows the portion of the West-wide Energy Corridor in that state and includes a few possible minor deviations, which are labeled “feasible alternatives.” The West-wide Energy Corridor comprises a number of segments of Federal land in 11 Western states that were designated for oil, gas, and hydrogen pipelines and electricity transmission and distribution facilities under authority granted to the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, and the Interior by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct05).

However, the preferred route through southern Idaho includes a number of alternatives for the portion of the project from just south of Pocatello to the Hemingway substation outside of Boise, indicative of unresolved issues that must still be worked out.

The final EIS also includes discussion of the potential effects of construction and the finished project on wildlife in the area, including a 141-page appendix dealing with the potential impacts on greater sage-grouse, a candidate for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.

“We did have a separate document and discussion on sage-grouse and had public meetings on that, so we’ve tried to keep the public in the loop on that,” the spokesperson said. “We want people to look very closely at that [topic] as well, to make sure that we have captured everybody’s feedback.”

The final EIS, however, notes that more work remains to be done on the topic of mitigating the project’s effects on the bird, including completing of an impacts analysis.

“Until an impacts analysis has been conducted in coordination with [U.S. Fish and Wildlife] agency biologists—leading to an adequate understanding of impacts to [sage-grouse] populations and habitat—the issue of mitigation will not be addressed,” according to the final EIS.

The publication of the final EIS marks a milestone in what has already been a lengthy process. Idaho Power and PacifiCorp initially applied to the BLM for a right-of-way (ROW) grant to use the National System of Public Lands for portions of the project on May 7, 2007, according to the document. The original application was revised in October 2007, August 2008, May 2009, and January 2010 to reflect changes and refinements in their proposed project.

Publication of the document has triggered a 60-day public comment period that will end June 29. Later this year, following a review of the comments received, BLM will issue a record of decision (ROD). If the ROD calls for a phased approval, BLM will do more environmental analysis and discussion of the portions that were not approved, then open a separate comment period for further discussion of those segments.

In addition to obtaining a favorable ROD from BLM, developers must also obtain permits at the state and local level in Idaho and Wyoming, including local conditional use permits, a permit with the Wyoming Industrial Siting Council and state certificates of public convenience and necessity.

Rocky Mountain Power and Idaho Power anticipate line segments will be completed in phases between 2016 and 2021, according to their joint project website.

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