TransWest Express: DOI approves record of decision for 600-kV project

TransWest Express LLC on Dec. 13 said that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Department of the Interior, has issued its record of decision (ROD) approving the $3bn, 600-kV  TransWest Express Transmission Project, after eight years of federal environmental review.

The high-voltage, direct current (HVDC) electric transmission system being developed by TransWest Express would “directly and efficiently access diverse renewable energy supplies while reducing” greenhouse gas emissions, TransWest Express said. The project would add 3,000 MW of “backbone” transmission capacity between the Desert Southwest and Rocky Mountain regions, the company said.

As noted in the ROD, the project would consist of an approximately 728-mile-long, transmission line and two terminals, each containing a converter station that converts alternating current (AC) to DC or vice-versa. The northern AC/DC converter station would be located near Sinclair, Wyo., and the southern AC/DC station near the Marketplace Hub in the Eldorado Valley, about 25 miles south of Las Vegas, Nev., the ROD said, adding that the project retains an option for a future interconnection with the existing Intermountain Power Project transmission system in Millard County, Utah.

TransWest Express said that the ROD is the final step for agencies in the environmental impact statement (EIS) process, and it follows the May 1, 2015, publication of the project’s final EIS, which BLM and the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA) prepared as joint lead federal agencies.

The BLM ROD approves issuing a right of way (ROW) grant for the project on BLM-managed land, which represents about 60% of the 730-mile route. TransWest Express also said that it has committed to hundreds of project-specific mitigation measures, best management practices and conservation actions designed to avoid, minimize and mitigate potential impacts of this infrastructure project to the environment.

According to the ROD, the project traverses Carbon and Sweetwater counties in Wyoming; Moffat County in Colorado; Beaver, Carbon, Duchesne, Iron, Juab, Millard, Sanpete, Uintah, Utah, and Wasatch counties in Utah; and Clark and Lincoln counties in Nevada; in so doing, the project crosses BLM-administered lands managed by the BLM Rawlins, Little Snake, White River, Vernal, Richfield, Salt Lake, Fillmore, Cedar City, Caliente, and Las Vegas field offices.

The ROD noted that the BLM’s approval will take the form of a 30-year ROW grant, issued in conformance with Title V of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and BLM’s implementing regulations. One new ROW grant, WYW-177893, will allow TransWest to use, occupy, and develop the public lands described in the ROD to build, operate, maintain, and terminate the entirety of a 600-kV electric transmission line, the ROD said.

Subordinate case files, COC–72929, UTU–87238, and NVN–86732, will be created in the BLM’s automated lands record system (LR2000) that will separately identify public lands associated with this grant in Colorado, Utah, and Nevada, respectively, the ROD said.

The BLM will also issue a separate 10-year ROW grant associated with short-term/temporary construction activities, the ROD said, adding that one new ROW grant, WYW-177893-01, will cover those activities. As with the 30-year grant, subordinate case file numbers will also be assigned to identify public lands in Colorado, Utah, and Nevada associated with short-term activities, the ROD said, noting that those subordinate case files are COC–72929-01, UTU–87238-01, and NVN–86732-01, respectively.

The ROD said that the approved route alignment – referred to as the selected alternative – largely follows the Agency Preferred Alternative identified in the final EIS (Alternatives I-B, II-G, and IV-A), except for Alternative I-B, where the ROD selects the Tuttle Micro-siting Option 4 in order to avoid crossing the Tuttle Conservation Easement in Moffat County, Colo., and Alternative III-D, where the ROD approves the Halfway Wash-Virgin River ground electrode system siting.

The selected alternative comprises 47 final EIS segments and includes their associated access roads, multipurpose and helicopter fly yards, and other temporary sites needed to build the transmission line, the ROD said. Other project components include two terminal stations, two ground electrode facilities, and a network of 12 to 15 fiber optic communication and regeneration sites, the ROD said.

Further describing Alternative I-B, the ROD noted that that alternative as considered in the final EIS would be the same as Alternative I-A for nearly its entire length, with one exception just north of the Wyoming-Colorado state line. In that area, about eight miles of Alternative I-B would diverge to the southeast from Alternative I-A to minimize potential impacts to areas eligible for historic trail designation. Alternative I-B is about 158 miles, 67% of which would be located on BLM lands, the ROD added, noting that 24 miles would be in BLM Resource Management Plan (RMP) utility corridors, and 25 miles would be in West-wide Energy Corridor (WWEC) corridors; there would be 204 miles of access roads associated with that alternative.

Alternative II-G avoids crossing Tribal trust lands of the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation, while also avoiding National Historic Trails, maximizing avoidance of potential habitat of federally protected plant species, and maximizing co-location with existing above-ground utilities, the ROD said. Alternative II-G is about 252 miles, 45% of which would be located on BLM/United States Forest Service (USFS) lands; 32 miles would be in BLM RMP utility corridors, and 63 miles would be in WWEC corridors. The ROD also said that there would be 395 miles of access roads associated with that alternative.

Alternative IV-A is about 37 miles, 92% of which would be located on federally managed lands; there would be 11 miles of BLM RMP corridors, and 14 miles of designated WWEC. The ROD also said that there would be 49 miles of access roads associated with that alternative.

Alternative III-D was developed as a minor reconfiguration to Alternative III-B for the purpose of decreased resource impacts in southwestern Utah, as well as addressing concerns raised by the Department of Defense, the ROD said. Alternative III-D is about 281 miles, 75% of which would be located on BLM/USFS lands; 55% of the route would be within a designated RMP or WWEC corridor (137 miles and 50 miles, respectively). The ROD also noted that there would be 303 miles of access roads associated with that alternative.

Project construction must begin within five years after the effective date of the ROW grant, the ROD said, adding that the ROW grant is conditioned on the company’s satisfaction of, for instance, an avian protection plan and a sage-grouse mitigation plan.

The ROD also noted that the WAPA will issue a separate ROD for its decision regarding whether it will use its borrowing authority as established by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s 2009 amendment of the Hoover Power Plant Act of 1984 to partially finance and hold partial ownership with TransWest Express in the resulting transmission facilities and capacity. The USFS, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the Utah Reclamation Mitigation and Conservation Commission will each also issue separate RODs for portions of the project on lands that they manage along the Selected Alternative, the ROD said, adding that those RODs will be based on analysis in the Final EIS, as those agencies were all cooperating agencies for development of the EIS. 


TransWest Express said in its statement that the project’s construction is estimated to create up to 1,500 direct construction jobs each year for an estimated three-year construction period. With a shared commitment to creating employment opportunities and strengthening the Western electric grid, the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and the International Union of Operating Engineers have signed partnering agreements with TransWest Express for construction of the project, TransWest Express said.

A TransWest Express spokesperson on Dec. 14 told TransmissionHub that construction on the project is estimated to begin in 2018, and that the project is estimated to be in service in 2020.

About Corina Rivera-Linares 3058 Articles
Corina Rivera-Linares, chief editor for TransmissionHub, has covered the U.S. power industry for the past 15 years. Before joining TransmissionHub, Corina covered renewable energy and environmental issues, as well as transmission, generation, regulation, legislation and ISO/RTO matters at SNL Financial. She has also covered such topics as health, politics, and education for weekly newspapers and national magazines. She can be reached at clinares@endeavorb2b.com.