Draft EIS for TransWest Express includes preferred route that avoids sensitive areas

The preferred route for the proposed TransWest Express proposed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Western Area Power Administration (WAPA), the joint lead agencies on the project  avoids sensitive areas across the project’s four-state footprint, according to the agencies’ recently released draft environmental impact statement (EIS).

“We tried to keep [our preferred route] within the West-wide Energy Corridor as much as possible,” a BLM spokesperson told TransmissionHub after the document’s release July 3. “Where we had to veer from that, it was to avoid sensitive areas [including] sage grouse habitat, wilderness areas, and areas where there are special-status species.”

The West-wide Energy Corridor was created after the Energy Policy Act of 2005 directed the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy and the Interior to designate under their respective authorities corridors on federal land in the western states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming for electricity transmission and distribution facilities, as well as oil, gas, and hydrogen pipelines.

The preferred route was developed from the alternatives the BLM previewed in its October 2012 project newsletter. In many places, the preferred route and the route proposed by the applicant, TransWest Express LLC, follow the same alignment, though their paths diverge in southern Wyoming, in northeastern Utah, and near the end of the line in southwestern Utah and eastern Nevada.

Depending on the route alternative ultimately selected, the project potentially would cross federal lands other than those controlled by BLM, which would require other federal agencies to make decisions related to granting rights-of-way (ROWs). In total, more than 50 agencies are participating in the NEPA EIS process, including nine federal agencies, four states, 24 counties, six conservation districts, and one grazing board that have signed memoranda of understanding as cooperating agencies for the project.

The draft EIS, issued in three volumes and nine appendices, includes design options and a list of decisions that remain to be made.

Project description

As proposed, the project will consist of a 600-kV DC transmission line approximately 725 miles in length, extending across state, federal and private lands in Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada.

Two terminal stations to be located on private or public lands at either end of the transmission line, near Sinclair, Wyo., and at the Marketplace Hub in the Eldorado Valley, near Boulder City, Nev. It would also include two ground electrode facilities within 100 miles of each of the northern and southern terminals. The ground electrode facilities would be used to maintain system operations in the event of the loss of one or more poles or circuits.

A communication system consisting of a network of 12 to 15 fiber optic communication and regeneration sites and microwave facilities at each terminal are also part of the proposed project. Typically, the communications infrastructure would be located within the transmission line ROW, which is planned to be 250 feet wide.

The project would also include the construction of access routes, including improvements to existing roads, new overland access, and new unpaved roads to access the proposed project facilities and work areas during the construction, operation, and maintenance phases.

The project is estimated to cost $3bn, will be approximately 725 miles long depending on the route selected, and is expected to be in service in 2017, according to TransmissionHub data.

The project is one of seven projects selected as a pilot fast-track project by the Obama Administration’s rapid response team for transmission, which was established to coordinate the permitting review among the numerous federal and state agencies involved, provide consistent consultation with tribal governments, and assist in resolving interagency conflicts.

Design options

The draft EIS includes two design options to maintain project flexibility. Under one option designated as option 2, the project would construct a 600-kV DC transmission line to deliver energy from the northern terminal in Sinclair, Wyo., to a new AC/DC converter station near the existing IPP substation near Delta, Utah. From the new AC/DC converter station, a single circuit 1,500-MW, 500-kV AC transmission line would be constructed to one of the existing substations at the Marketplace Hub south of Boulder City, Nev.

Under the alternative called option 3, the project would utilize a two-phase approach. During the first phase, the portion of the transmission line from Sinclair, Wyo., to the IPP substation near Delta, Utah, would be constructed and operated as a 1,500-MW, 500-kV AC transmission system but would include 3,000-MW, 600-kV DC capability for phase two conversion. The second phase would involve constructing the remaining portion of the 3,000-MW, 600-kV DC line from IPP to the southern terminal, construction of the northern and southern terminals and ground electrode systems, and converting operations to a DC system.

Option 3 would be required if the demand for Wyoming resources in the desert southwest proves to be slower in development than expected, BLM said in the draft EIS.

Implementation of the design options would only be considered under the conditions that sufficient capacity became commercially available to transmit energy delivered by the project to California, and that the project was able to establish commercial interconnection agreements with the utility owning and operating the IPP transmission line, BLM said in the draft EIS.

Decisions to be made

The draft EIS outlined several decisions that must be made for the project to move forward.

The BLM must decide whether to grant, grant with modification, or deny a ROW to construct, operate, and maintain the proposed facilities for a transmission line on public lands.

It must also decide whether one or more BLM land use plans should be amended to allow the proposed transmission line. The agency must also determine the most appropriate location for the transmission line on public lands, considering multiple-use objectives; and determine the terms and conditions for the construction, operation, maintenance, and decommissioning of the transmission line on public lands that should be applied to the ROW grant.

For its part, WAPA must decide whether it would use its borrowing authority to partially finance and hold partial ownership with TransWest in the resulting transmission facilities and capacity. WAPA has said previously that it plans to partially fund the project under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The issuance of the document opens a 90-day comment period, which ends Sept. 30.

To gather public input, BLM will hold a series of public meetings along the route in August and September. That input that will be considered in creating the final EIS, which is anticipated 12 to 18 months after the close of the public comment period on the draft EIS, according to the BLM prioject website.

“We want the public to give us comments so we know whether we’re heading down the right track with that,” the spokesperson said. “That’s really our intent.” 

Interested parties who are unable to attend one of the public meetings can submit comments to the BLM and WAPA through e-mail or postal service mail.