Renewable energy power-line projects win final approval from BLM

The Interior Department has given final approval to two renewable-energy transmission line projects that will cut through northwest Colorado.

The agency on Tuesday approved the 728-mile TransWest Express project and 416-mile Energy Gateway South project. The projects required Interior Department approval because they cross 442 and 228 miles, respectively, of public land administered by Interior’s Bureau of Land Management.

In Colorado, the approved routes share the same corridor, traveling generally north to south through central Moffat County before heading west along the Rio Blanco County line. Alternative routes also would have included parts of western Garfield and Mesa counties, and eastern Moffat County in the Craig area.

The TransWest project would deliver up to 3,000 megawatts of power, or enough energy to supply up to 1.8 million homes, from Wyoming to southern Nevada, the Interior Department says. The Energy Gateway South project will carry up to 1,500 megawatts to central Utah from planned renewable and thermal sources in Wyoming.

PacifiCorp is planning to build the Energy Gateway South project. The TransWest project is being undertaken by billionaire Philip Anschutz, primarily to carry power from Anschutz’s wind projects in Wyoming.

The Interior Department says the two transmission projects are expected to generate more than 2,300 construction jobs.

The department said Tuesday that Interior Secretary Sally Jewell also has signed an agreement with California Gov. Jerry Brown to encourage development of renewable energy projects on federal and state lands and offshore waters. Interior said the power line initiatives and the California agreement build on its efforts during the Obama administration to tap solar, wind and geothermal projects in the West and approve projects to ship power to markets.

In a statement, Alex Daue, assistant director for energy and climate for the Wilderness Society, said the two newly approved routes “unnecessarily destroy wilderness-quality lands in northwest Colorado and eastern Nevada, as well as greater sage-grouse habitat. Readily available alternative routes could have minimized or eliminated these impacts by following highways and designated utility corridors.”

“At a minimum, BLM must mandate that these lines offset their development impacts through mitigation to restore habitat and protect wildlands, which BLM’s own guidance requires for all public lands development,” Daue said.

BLM spokesman David Boyd said the projects will include measures to minimize impacts to the sage-grouse. These include tower structure designs that minimize places where raptors that prey on sage-grouse can perch, and that reduce the chances that grouse and other birds can inadvertently fly into the towers.

Moffat County had opposed the alternate route along Colorado Highway 13 in the Craig area because of the number of residents living along that route. When it came to the more western route, the county initially had concerns about how much the power line projects would count against 3 percent BLM caps on land disturbances in priority sage-grouse habitat. But the BLM has assured the project’s contributions in terms of disturbance levels would be minimal.

Boyd said the final route also avoids an area protected by conservation easement at the Tuttle Ranch, thanks to concerns raised by entities including Colorado Parks and Wildlife.


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