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SALT LAKE CITY — What could someday be the nation's second-largest transmission line of its kind is nearing the end of a lengthy environmental review, including what route it will take through Utah and three other Western states.
The TransWest Express would deliver enough Wyoming wind energy to power about 2 million homes in growing metropolitan areas such as San Diego, Las Vegas and Phoenix, crossing 725 miles of mostly federal land.
Proposed by the Denver-based company in conjunction with the Western Area Power Administration, the 600-kilovolt, high-voltage direct-current line would originate near Sinclair, Wyoming, and end at a collection of power substations 25 miles south of Las Vegas.
Converter stations would be located at each end of the route for the 3,000-megawatt line, as well as a probable converter station at Delta near the existing Intermountain Power Plant.
The Wyoming Bureau of Land Management released the final environmental impact statement on the Denver-based company's right-of-way application to the federal agency and has opened a public comment period that runs through June.
A final decision is due in September, and if the rest of the permitting process continues as planned, the line could be operational by the end of 2018 or early 2019.
Bill Miller, president and CEO of TransWest, said completion of the federal analysis brings the project one step closer to the final stages of a project that taps the high-capacity renewable energy resources.
The right of way for the massive project would be 250 feet wide and mostly occur within a federally designated Westwide energy corridor.
Although multiple meetings have been held in Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and Nevada detailing the route variations and other components of the project, affected entities are still trying to hammer out any areas of disagreement or lingering concerns.
The inherent complexity associated with such large, multi-state transmission lines is immense given the number of entities involved and the amount of acreage at stake.
BLM managers note that 49 agencies have signed a memorandum of understanding to be "cooperating agencies" on the project, including 11 federal agencies, 24 counties, six conservation districts, one grazing boardand a state university.
"A final decision is due in September, and if the rest of the permitting process continues as planned, the line could be operational by the end of 2018 or early 2019."
Millard and Juab counties both adopted a resolution indicating a preferred route for the transmission line, and a consultant hired by Millard County is reviewing the latest route designation contained in the analysis.
Bruce Parker, owner of Planning and Development Services, said Millard County commissioners officials amended their key planning document to designate a mile-wide energy corridor in late 2008 and early 2009, indicating a geographic preference for the siting of any energy-related infrastructure.
Parker said the corridor is designed to offer coordinated planning for pipelines, transmission lines and any related product.
The corridor, he added, helps to protect prime farmlands and safeguard water resources, especially the Sevier River.
"We also have some prime wildlife habitat, such as the Clear Lake Waterfowl Management Area, that we want to protect from any disruption as well," Parker said.
The proposed height of the towers — 180 feet — also have implications for military aircraft using the nearby Utah Test and Training Range, and the counties are trying to avoid impacts to any cultural resources in the area.
At least two environmental organizations have raised concerns about the proposed route BLM selected through portions of western Colorado, fearing impacts to sage-grouse habitat that already faces an array of problems.
“BLM is required to address impacts to wildlands and wildlife habitat from major transmission projects, and it has the tools to do so,” said Alex Daue, assistant director for renewable energy at The Wilderness Society.
Daue said the BLM’s preferred alternative route for the project cuts across roadless lands in northwest Colorado and would have detrimental impacts to lands with wilderness characteristics, greater sage grouse habitat and prized big-game hunting areas.
The sage grouse implications are especially critical given a potential listing of the bird under the Endangered Species Act this fall.
In 2011, the TransWest Express project was one of seven across the country selected by the U.S. Department of Interior to be fast-tracked in the permitting process, with an eye toward shoring up the nation's energy grid and integrating renewable power.