By Jonathan Thompson/High Country News
At least eight major transmission projects are in the planning stages for Wyoming, and all of them originate in or pass through wind country, but the path to getting them built remains rocky. Even a small line can cross all kinds of jurisdictions, causing permitting nightmares, and federal efforts to streamline the process haven't helped much yet. Power lines offer few permanent jobs, and landowners only get a one-time payment when a line crosses their land. "The problem with transmission is it has what I call the curse," says Whitton. "Nobody likes it. It's ugly, intrusive, and they don't pay worth a darn."
Rocky Mountain Power - which is part of PacifiCorp - has one of the biggest transmission efforts in the works, consisting of three lines, totaling 2,000 miles at a cost of $6.1 billion. The Gateway West line would string its way from near Glenrock south to I-80, then west to Idaho. The Gateway South project would start in Wyoming and end near Las Vegas. Gateway Central is in Idaho and Utah. Though power lines can't be restricted to any particular type of power, company officials say these lines are intended to add even more wind to Rocky Mountain Power's portfolio - the company is, by far, the biggest wind producer in Wyoming. But the earliest any of the projects will be online is 2014. If they ever get built, that is.
"I have not met one person who has welcomed a transmission line on his property," Rocky Mountain Power President Richard Walje told a congressional subcommittee on natural resources this November, "and I doubt I would find anyone who would say, 'Oh, the transmission line is only for renewable energy; in that case I'll take two.' "
In October, Gov. Freudenthal told an energy conference that, in Wyoming, some folks who have made their money off gas and oil drilling and pipelines have "developed a sense of virtue about not destroying the environment," when faced with wind power. "They may be late conversions," he added, "but they are singing with great vigor in the front row of the choir." Most likely, he was talking about Diemer True. True joined the choir last year, when he discovered that Rocky Mountain Power planned to string its 230 kilovolt transmission line right along La Prele Creek, where he has two ranches. Then, Wasatch Wind asked True and his neighbours to lease their land for turbines. True, nearby landowner (and World Bank vice president) Kenneth G. Lay and some of their neighbours held a meeting in Douglas in May 2009 to come up with a plan of action. Around 200 people showed up.