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Wyoming Renewables Could Push Electric Grid Upgrade

Clearing federal permitting hurdles is a big challenge for delivering Wyoming's renewable energy to markets across state lines. (Getty Images)
Clearing federal permitting hurdles is a big challenge for delivering Wyoming's renewable energy to markets across state lines. (Getty Images)
May 11, 2017

CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Wyoming is again at a crossroads when it comes to helping the nation meet its energy needs, according to an investigative report by the Casper Star Tribune.

Reporter Heather Richards, who interviewed state and industry leaders along with academic experts, found demand for Wyoming's renewable power supplies could help bring the electric grid across the West into the 21st century.

"What happens in California does affect places like Wyoming,” she explains. “So if California has strict rules on how much of their electricity is going to come from renewables, that changes the picture of what is on the grid – and what is being used for electricity – in a wider area than you would expect.”

Richards says the region's aging infrastructure is being called on to deliver a growing number of power sources, adding wind and solar to traditional coal and natural gas.

Updating the grid would especially help bring potentially stranded renewable assets to markets. But Richards notes currently there's not a lot of political will to push projects through in a state with deep ties to the fossil fuel industry.

She says one of the biggest challenges for delivering electricity is federal red tape. She points to the TransWest transmission line, designed to carry the Chokecherry wind project's power to Nevada and California, which took 8 years to clear the permitting process – at a cost of more than $1 million – just to get started.

"Whenever you're going through permitting, it's going to take a while,” Richards states. “And that's a massive hurdle. How many developers are going to jump in when they see the price tag and the length that it takes to get something like this done?”

Richards notes Wyoming leaders want private investment, rather than state tax dollars, to lead the charge. She says ultimately the marketplace might tip the scales for building out a more robust power grid.

"So part of it is just the economics of it, right?” she says. “You always want whatever's cheapest. Coal is incredibly reliable and it's incredibly cheap. But now renewables are getting cheaper than coal, which is something that would have been crazy to even think about 10 or 15 years ago."

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - WY