Record of decision for Gateway West puts two segments ‘on hold’

The U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on Nov. 12 issued the record of decision (ROD) for the proposed Gateway West transmission line, which approves eight segments of the 990-mile, 500-kV project but delays indefinitely decisions on two remaining segments.

The ROD identified the BLM authorized routes on public lands for segments 1 through 7 and segment 10 but deferred decisions for segments 8 and 9, which generally run between a substation near American Falls, Idaho and a substation southeast of Twin Falls, Idaho.

“These are the segments that go north of the Snake River and south of the Snake River and they basically bracket or are located near the [Snake River] Birds of Prey National Conservation Area,” a BLM spokesperson told TransmissionHub Nov. 13. “We continue to have some challenges with state and local governments about [whether to site] inside that nationally designated area or outside, and of course if the siting is outside, then a good portion of that routing would be on private land.”

Much of that private land is either open space or is used for agricultural purposes, so it is high-value agricultural land and represents “a fairly common and clear clash between siting criteria,” the BLM spokesperson said.

In addition to deferring decisions on segments 8 and 9, a portion of segment 4 in Lincoln County, Wyo., was modified following the release of the final environmental impact statement (EIS), to minimize potential impacts on sage grouse, ground disturbance in a landslide area, and conservation easements, the agency said.

The agency expects that additional time will allow it to work with stakeholders to identify an acceptable route for the two delayed segments.

“We felt there may be ways to find a complementary route that may be better than what we currently have presented in the EIS to satisfy both points of view, but we just needed more time to work that out,” the spokesperson said. “Rather than delay the entire project, taking another year or two to work out that local siting issue, we offered the grant on [segments 1 through 7, and segment 10] and deferred it on two.”

The deferral of decisions on the two segments did not come as a complete surprise. When BLM issued the final environmental impact statement (EIS) in April, it included an option for a phased approval.

“We knew all along that [the project] was going to have to be constructed and built and put into service in phases,” a spokesperson for project lead developer Rocky Mountain Power told TransmissionHub, noting that the record of decision does allow the companies to move forward in other locations.

“We will be working with stakeholders as we move forward with the project, particularly in those areas where this record of decision has been issued, but also for the two areas that are under discussion,” the spokesperson said.

Over the course of the next several years, Rocky Mountain Power and co-developer Idaho Power will take steps including local permitting, obtaining rights of way, and similar activities. There have been no construction dates set because a significant amount of work remains to be done, though Rocky Mountain Power anticipates putting those phases approved by the ROD into service between 2019 and 2023.

With the ROD issued, BLM will turn its focus to the segments for which decisions were deferred.

“We are going to start next week, working with the local stakeholders in the southwestern Idaho area to move forward and hopefully come up with a decision on those two segments within the next year or two,” the agency spokesperson said. “We would have liked to have authorized the full project but with additional time, we can come up with something better” than the routes that are being held in abeyance.

Gateway West is one of seven priority projects of the Obama Administration’s Rapid Response Team for Transmission, formed to improve the overall quality and timeliness of electric transmission infrastructure permitting.

“Gateway West is a high priority project of the President’s power infrastructure initiative – a common-sense approach that is speeding job creation in the near-term while spurring the economy and increasing the nation’s competitiveness in the long-term,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement announcing the ROD. “The line will strengthen the Western grid, bringing a diversified portfolio of renewable and conventional energy to meet the region’s projected growth in electricity demand.”

When completed, Gateway West will stretch from the Windstar Substation near Glenrock, Wyo., to the Hemingway Substation near Melba, Idaho and will provide up to 1,500 MW of transmission capacity in southern Wyoming and southern Idaho.

Notification of the ROD will be published in the Federal Register on Nov. 14. The document, in more than 2,200 pages with 14 appendices, is available on the BLM web site.

Rocky Mountain Power is a division of PacifiCorp, which is owned by MidAmerican Energy Holdings. Idaho Power is a subsidiary of IDACORP (NYSE:IDA).