Obama Administration Fast Track for Transmission Projects Does Little for Western Geothermal Interests

As part of the campaign to gain support for the American Jobs Act, the Obama Administration has recently identified 7 major transmission projects for expedited permit streamlining. According to Nancy Sutley of the Council on Environmental Quality, this move will “speed the creation of thousands of construction and operations jobs while transforming the nation’s electric system into a modern, 21st century grid that is safer and more secure, and gives consumers more energy choices.”

The choice of these transmission projects is touted as a means to increase grid reliability and to integrate renewable energy resources.  An analysis of these selected transmission lines by the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) shows little to no benefit from these projects to expanded transmission access to geothermal resource areas in the western states.  Although several of these projects make reference to potential access and transport of geothermal energy, GEA could find no specific commitments from any of these transmission projects to actually facilitating project development. 

These major transmission projects may be missing out on the potential to connect to geothermal electricity stations:

Boardman-Hemingway Line — The new 500-kilovolt (kV) transmission line proposed by Idaho Power would create an approximately 300 mile long, single-circuit electric transmission line from a proposed substation near Boardman, Oregon to the Hemingway Substation near Melba, Idaho — known as the Boardman to Hemingway Transmission Line Project or B2H Project.  The power imported on the proposed transmission line would come from a variety of northwest sources including hydroelectric, natural gas, coal, nuclear, and wind resources.

Gateway West Project — Jointly proposed by Idaho Power and Rocky Mountain Power, this project would add approximately 1,150 miles of new, high-voltage transmission lines between the Windstar Substation near Glenrock, Wyoming and the Hemingway Substation near Melba, Idaho.  According to the developers, “the electricity that will be transported over the new transmission lines will come from a variety of existing and future sources including coal, hydroelectric, geothermal, natural gas and wind resources in Wyoming and Idaho.”  The July 2011 Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project does reference several geothermal leasing areas in Wyoming and Idaho as within the Project area, and the document also notes that the Raft River Geothermal Power Plant operated by U.S. Geothermal is within the project area.  However, the Draft EIS goes on to state that “As of June 2011, all of the generators requesting transportation on Gateway West were wind energy (PacifiCorp 2011). 

Cascade Crossing Line — Portland General Electric’s proposed Cascade Crossing Transmission Project includes approximately 210 miles of 500-kV transmission line from Boardman to Salem, Oregon—for the construction of four new substations, expansion of three existing substations, and upgrades to the existing transmission systems near Salem.  According to the developer, Cascade Crossing is expected to create about 450 jobs during peak construction, and “would provide transmission to wind projects that are planned but are not currently served by transmission.”

SunZia Transmission — SunZia Transmission, LLC plans to construct and operate up to two 500 kV transmission lines originating at a new substation in Lincoln County in the vicinity of Ancho, New Mexico, and terminating at the Pinal Central Substation in Pinal County near Coolidge, Arizona.  According to the developer, this project will provide access to geothermal, solar and wind resources.  However this line is primarily designed to access the remote wind-rich region in central New Mexico that is estimated to contain over 11,300 MW of power.  Solar interests in Arizona and New Mexico are also interested in utilizing the line, but there is no specific reference to where the commercially viable geothermal resources of Arizona or New Mexico are located that could access this interstate transmission line. 

TransWest Express — TransWest Express LLC plans to construct and operate a more than 700 mile, 600-kV transmission line.  According to the developer, “This project will facilitate the development of new wind projects in Wyoming.”

Two of the “fast tracked” projects are in the eastern United States where there are no commercially operated geothermal power plants.

Susquehanna to Roseland Line — PPL Electric Utilities (PPL) and Public Service Electric and Gas Company (PSE&G) have proposed the Susquehanna-Roseland power line project which includes an approximately 145 mile long 500-kV transmission line from the Susquehanna Substation in Pennsylvania to the Roseland Substation in New Jersey, and several 500–230-kV substations in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Hampton-Rochester-La Crosse Line — This double-circuit capable 345-kV transmission line will run between a new substation near Hampton, Minnesota, a new substation north of Pine Island, Minnesota, and continue on to cross the Mississippi River near Alma, Wisconsin.  A single circuit 345-kV line will be built in Wisconsin to a new substation in the La Crosse area.  Two 161-kV lines will be built between the new substation near Pine Island and existing substations northwest and east of Rochester.

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