Meetings will air details of mega transmission line in Utah

Published: Sunday, Feb. 13 2011 10:03 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — What would be the nation's second-largest direct current transmission line is proposed to weave across the state of Utah, delivering up to 3,000 megawatts of wind-generated electric power to consumers in the desert Southwest.

Utah would not be a recipient of the renewable energy delivered by the 725-mile long line, but 429 miles of the 600 kilovolt transmission line would cross the Beehive State's landscape, snaking through the Uinta Basin, up over near Strawberry Reservoir, dropping down into Delta and moving on to Washington County.

From there, the line originating in Sinclair, Wyo., near Rawlins, would end 15 miles south of Boulder City, Nev.

A series of "scoping meetings" to solicit public input on the project will be held the next two weeks in multiple counties in Utah, including Millard, Iron and Washington.

Hosted by the state office of the Bureau of Land Management and the Western Area Power Administration of the U.S. Department of Energy, the meetings will include maps that detail the preferred route, multiple alternatives and agency staff who will be available to answer questions.

Specifically, federal agencies are evaluating two-mile wide corridors and are seeking input on where to best locate the route within that area. The actual right of way needed for the project is 250 feet in width.

The line is a project of TransWest Express, a subsidiary of a multifaceted company that founded Qwest Communications, constructing the nation's first transcontinental high-speed fiberoptic link between Los Angeles and Boston. Its entertainment arm built multiple sports and concert venues, such as the Staples Center in Los Angeles and the O2 arena in London.

The company submitted a right-of-way application in 2008 and input compiled from these meetings will help formulate a draft Environmental Impact Statement anticipated to be released in 2012.

It won't be until 2015 that the $3 billion project will go online, with the potential to power 1.8 million homes in Southern California, Arizona and Nevada — all states with legislatively mandated directives to deliver a certain percentage of renewable energy to consumers.

"We're absolutely confident there is a market for this," said TransWest's spokesperson Kara Choquette.

California, Arizona and Nevada — along with Utah and Wyoming — are the signatories to a 2005 memorandum of understanding that grew out of a study by the Western Governors Association identifying a critical need for new transmission to meet growing electrical demands.

"We are a growing country, but we have not grown our transmission grid accordingly," Choquette said.

Jim Byrne, Utah director of the Western Grid group, agrees.

"There is certainly a need for new transmission in the West," he said. "But the issue about transmission lines crossing an area that does not get a direct benefit — that has been a concern for siting of transmission lines for some time."

The route follows federally-designated utility corridors for approximately 393 miles and only 41 miles of the proposed route would establish a new utility corridor not already designated or parallel to existing transmission lines.

Bryne said from an environmental standpoint, the co-location of utilities in one corridor is the most appealing, but industry also has concerns that events like range-land fires or earthquakes impact the overall reliability of the system because multiple lines could fail at once.

In Utah, 224 miles of the line's 429 mile-long route would cross federal lands, which does limit the ability for local input to have much impact.

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