PacifiCorp set to invest $3.5 billion in Wyoming
Northern Carbon County will be seeing significant investment from energy companies in the near future. The resource isn’t coming from the ground. It is coming from the air. It is wind.
Portland-based, PacifiCorp has put significant funds into wind energy for almost a decade.
PacifiCorp includes the companies of Pacific Power and Rocky Mountain Power that serves almost 2 million customers in six states. There are close to 140,000 Wyoming consumers.
The PacifiCorp owned wind fleet near Medicine Bow are being “re-powered” with longer blades and newer technology to achieve turbines that will produce more megawatts (MW).
The wind turbines in Medicine Bow were built in 2008 and the technology has improved vastly, said Laine Anderson, Director of Wind Operations for PacifiCorp Energy.
“The Seven Mile Hill wind plant, we have two projects going. Seven Mile One is 66 General Electric 1.5 MW turbines and Seven Mile Two is 13 turbines, so if you combine those projects, 79 total turbines, which would supply about 35,000 to 40,000 homes,” Anderson said.
“The name of Seven Mile Hill is because it is exactly seven miles from the Carbon cemetery location to the hill with the wind turbines,” Robert Booth said, the supervisor of Wind Operation for Seven Mile Hill and Dunlap which is also near Medicine Bow and consists of 74 turbines.
Anderson said the winds are strongest between October and March at Seven Mile Hill plant. This is when most of the energy is produced by the turbines.
One aspect of Seven Mile Hill plant that shows an environmental element is an observation tower erected for hawks and eagles. It is manned full time in the windy months. As soon as a hawk is sighted, the turbine it is near is turned off until the bird is gone.
The substations taking in the energy the turbines produce are also home to the control house where operators can see what is coming in. Once the energy is in, it is boosted.
“34,000 volts come into the substation and the transformer in the substation boost those volts to 230,000 volts and goes to the transmission substation of Rocky Mountain Power and it is put out on transmission lines to serve the towns and communities of Wyoming and other towns out west,” Anderson said.
On April 4, PacifiCorp filed its 2017 integrated resource plan that calls for $3.5 billion in renewable energy and transmission investment through 2020.
“My company is very excited about Energy Vision 2020 and the opportunity to make a $3.5 billion investment in the state of Wyoming. This will be our largest one time investment in Wyoming to date,” said Rita Meyer, vice president of Wyoming Rocky Mountain Power.
“As a long time Wyomingite I am very proud to be a part of the team leading this effort. I understand the headwinds we face executing these projects to include re-powering our existing wind farms, new wind build or acquisition of wind from other developers, and the construction of an additional 140 mile segment of transmission. For a large part of the overall project we must obtain both Public Service Commission and Industrial Siting approvals before we put a shovel in the ground.”
Meyer said these investments will also provide a needed boost to rural economies with new jobs and a stronger tax base. The investments should help diversify the state’s economy and provide a major boost to jobs and add to the tax base. She says the projects will create between 1,100 to 1,600 construction jobs and add about $120 million in tax revenue through construction and another $15 million of additional tax revenue annually through wind tax and property tax revenue starting in 2021.
Meyer is enthusiastic about the re-powering of wind turbines in place.
“We are especially excited about our plans to re-power the majority of our wind fleet in Wyoming. This is the first re-powering project that Rocky Mountain Power has undertaken,” said Meyer. “Successful completion of this $1 billion investment in Wyoming will trigger re-powering projects in our other Rocky Mountain Power states, but Wyoming will be recognized as the leader. Re-powering the wind fleet will increase energy production and extend the life of existing wind farms without altering the footprint.”
The upgrades are expected to increase output of the wind projects by 20 percent on average while extending the operating life of the projects and allow the projects to re-qualify for federal production tax credits for an additional 10 years.
These investments mark a major expansion of the amount of clean renewable energy going to PacifiCorp’s customers and reduces costs at the same time. Meyers said this is a win-win and represents the company’s continued commitment to both diversify energy resources and keep costs low.
Meyers did acknowledge the introduction of a new wind tax could hurt the company’s ambitions.
“We also need the support of our Wyoming State legislature. Wyoming is the only state in the Union to tax wind. Wind production is currently taxed at $1 per megawatt hour. Should that tax be increased the viability of these projects will be at great risk because we are no longer competitive with wind generation in other states,” said Meyers. “I always say that you can’t move a coal seam but wind can be developed in many other places and, frankly, other states are hungry for additional development and the revenues that accrue over the lifetime of projects like ours. Our projects have tremendous revenue potential for Carbon County and its communities.”
Although coal is not being mined in Carbon County any longer, PacifiCorp is not walking away from coal.
Meyers said, the additional tax revenue from these projects will more than offset any decline in coal royalties from scheduled coal unit closures over the next 20 years.
“Rocky Mountain Power isn’t walking away from coal. Coal will continue to be an important part of our electricity generation mix in Wyoming. We have proactively invested hundreds of millions of dollars in our Wyoming coal fleet in order to keep our plants in compliance with state and federal regulations,” said Meyers. “If that doesn’t show support for coal I don’t know what does.”
Meyers wants to make clear Wyoming residents will benefit from the energy wind turbines produce now and in the future.
“We have done our due diligence and believe that Wyoming citizens agree that the state will benefit from additional jobs, more revenue, additional transmission infrastructure, affordable electricity service, and economic diversity,” said Meyers. “We want to be a part of Wyoming’s continued energy leadership.”
As far as rate impacts for the Wyoming resident, Meyers said, much of the new wind and wind upgrades will qualify for federal production tax credits, which will directly reduce the cost of the projects, which allow them to pay for themselves and produce rate decreases for customers. Each state will use its own rate making procedures to determine how costs and benefits of the project are distributed to customers.
It is also hoped, the new line will enable additional wind developments in Wyoming and specifically Carbon County.
King Coal may have abdicated, but Prince Wind has his eyes on the throne.