TransWest exec: Developing transmission ‘like trying to finish an Ironman transmission triathlon’

Developing transmission is like trying to finish an “Ironman transmission triathlon,” Roxane Perruso, vice president and general counsel, with TransWest Express LLC, said on May 6 at TransmissionHub’s TransForum West held in Denver.

“[T]here are basically three different things that you’re trying to do and the twist is you’re trying to do them all at once,” she said during the panel titled, “Large transmission projects in the West.”

Those things, she said, involve right of way (ROW) acquisition and permitting, regulatory processes, as well as marketing and commercial matters.

Also challenging is balancing the concerns of a diverse group of stakeholders who have diverse interests and concerns, she said.

Perruso noted that federal agencies have published the final environmental impact statement (EIS) for the TransWest Express Transmission Project, calling the step “a huge milestone.”

The project “has been vetted for a long time at the very highest level,” she said, later adding, “[I]t’s been a long haul, but we’re almost there.”

As PennWell’s GenerationHub reportedthe final EIS was prepared by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Western Area Power Administration, which is part of the U.S. Department of Energy, as joint lead federal agencies. It results from more than six years of environmental analysis, public input and collaboration among 50 federal, state and local cooperating agencies.

After review of thousands of miles of potential routes, the final EIS also identifies the agencies’ preferred alternative from south-central Wyoming, to the site of a potential interconnection to the existing grid near Delta, Utah, and then to the Marketplace Hub in southern Nevada, where this electricity hub wheels power from Hoover Dam and other sources and provides interconnections to the California, Nevada and Arizona grids. Two-thirds of the approximately 730-mile preferred alternative route lies on federal land principally managed by BLM. The TransWest Express project follows designated utility corridors and is co-located with existing transmission when possible to avoid and minimize impacts.

Perruso noted on May 6 that the project is a 600-kV high voltage direct current (HVDC) line that will have 3,000 MW of capacity. It will be able to be built in two phases of 1,500 MW each. The 730-mile route begins in Wyoming, continues over part of Colorado, traverses Utah and ends in southern Nevada, she added.

“[T]he project is designed to provide renewable energy from Wyoming to markets in the desert Southwest, including Arizona, Nevada and Southern California,” she said.

The project will be able to deliver about 20,000 GWh of energy, or enough to power about 2 million homes. The project will have up to three different terminals for AC DC converter stations. The proposed third terminal, Perruso added, would give TransWest the ability to have access to, for instance, storage projects that are being done in Utah.

The project is a $3bn investment in transmission infrastructure, she said.

Along with challenges in the transmission space, Perruso discussed opportunities, saying: “[W]e have an amazing time right now. We have the opportunity to build critical transmission infrastructure that will allow us to access cost-effective renewables. We have the opportunity to participate in the expansion of the market, if we look at the effect that [the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA)] 111(d) [rule] is going to have on the market, and looking at PacifiCorp maybe joining [the California ISO]. We’re moving towards a more regional market and we have the ability now to participate in that.”

She also noted “the ability to capture the growth in the market,” citing California looking to increase its renewable portfolio standard (RPS).

In his Jan. 5 inaugural address, California Gov. Edmund Brown Jr., proposed certain goals to be accomplished within the next 15 years, including to increase from one-third to 50% the state’s electricity derived from renewable sources.

Perruso said on May 6, “[A]lthough there are many challenges and we know we’ll continue to have more challenges as we move forward, we believe that the TransWest project is the right project at the right time, and we’re excited about it.”


Another panelist, Tom Wray, project manager, SunZia Southwest Transmission Project, also noted on May 6 the “very high likelihood that the RPS in California will be increased [to] 50%.”

Still, he said, there are other drivers besides renewable energy for projects like SunZia, adding, “One of the things that took place during this period of time that we’ve been permitting SunZia” involves changes proposed by the EPA on the 111(d) rule.

Arizona has been particularly targeted under this proposed rule, he said, noting that the final rule is due for release this summer.

As GenerationHub reportedaccording to comments filed Feb. 18 at FERC by the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC), the EPA’s CO2-reducing Clean Power Plan, due to be issued in final form later this year, is an illegal, badly-flawed plan that will shut down all coal-fired power in Arizona by 2020. The comments were filed ahead of Feb. 19 and Feb. 25 FERC technical conferences about the plan and its impacts on the power grid.

“We believe that transmission projects like TransWest, like SunZia, that provide access to dispatchable wind generation and companion gas generation that can be developed … provides an option to regulators and to companies that doesn’t exist right now to meet this rule,” Wray said.

Citing a second rule as well – a proposed ozone rule that is being updated and due out in October – he said, “[S]omething like this is so major that I believe the optionality that transmission lines like SunZia produces for regulators is something not to be ignored.”

Among other things, Wray discussed the time it takes for a transmission project to be completed.

According to his presentation, and as he noted during his remarks, project conception to operation “is a 14-year proposition.”

He said, “A lot can happen in a decade with respect to markets that you were originally targeting,” for instance.

According to his presentation, state permits are expected to be obtained in 4Q15, with financial close occurring in 2017-2018. Final design, ROW acquisition, procurement and construction are anticipated to occur in 2016-2020.

“We expect that if we can achieve [power purchase agreements (PPAs)] by 2017, we can put this project in service [in] late 2020, early 2021,” Wray said.

According to the project’s website, the SunZia project is planned to be approximately 515 miles of two single-circuit 500 kV transmission lines. SunZia is designed to connect and deliver electricity generated in Arizona and New Mexico to population centers in the Desert Southwest.

SunZia will increase power reliability and enhance domestic energy security in the Desert Southwest through strategic interconnections with the underlying extra high voltage grid in Arizona and New Mexico, the website added. The electricity distributed by SunZia will help meet the country’s demand for renewable energy and reduce dependence on fossil fuels for power production.

On Jan. 23, the BLM approved SunZia’s application for right-of-way across federal property, the website added.

About Corina Rivera-Linares 3286 Articles
Corina Rivera-Linares was TransmissionHub’s chief editor until August 2021, as well as part of the team that established TransmissionHub in 2011. Before joining TransmissionHub, Corina covered renewable energy and environmental issues, as well as transmission, generation, regulation, legislation and ISO/RTO matters at SNL Financial from 2005 to 2011. She has also covered such topics as health, politics, and education for weekly newspapers and national magazines.