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Meetings will air details of mega transmission line in Utah

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.

Still, Millard County Commissioner Daron Smith has some concerns.

Smith said he's met with officials involved in the line's planning stages and attended one of the public meetings last week to discuss an alternative to TransWest's preferred route.

The county has an established energy corridor that anticipates projects such as this.

"It has an allocated right of way where we like these projects to go because there are certain areas where we don't want them to go. Our zoning ordinances are set up that way," he said. "There is a benefit to the community because of the tax break they bring, but that is all they bring. The real benefit is to some other community, not us."

Under TransWest's scenario, the line would cross private property and impact agricultural land in the Leamington Canyon area. Smith said he would prefer the route sited north of there, near Lyndal.

Southern Utah Wilderness Allliance's Steve Bloch is also keeping an eye on the project, attending meetings and gathering information.

"I do not think there is any denying there is a need for more transmission to bring renewable energy to the market," said Bloch, the group's energy program director. "In terms of this project, the devil will be in the details."

Bloch attended a recent meeting where he said there a lot of questions he had, "and not all the questions were answered." He said the corridor for the transmission line — under the preferred route — appears to traverse through sensitive wilderness areas, something that is objectionable.

"On the broadest level, while we acknowledge the need and demand for more power and more transmission for renewable, it is just going to take close scrutiny of where the lines are on the map...It's unclear how some of the lines ended up on the maps."

Too, Bloch realizes how incongruent it would be for his organization to object strongly to the prospect of a high-voltage transmission line delivering power derived from renewable energy.

"It is not going to work for us, as SUWA, to say we are in favor of renewable power but insist you can't locate the transmission of it in Utah. The question will be where we do we put it."

Scoping hearings

All run from 4 to 7 p.m.

Monday — Richfield High School, 510 W. 100 South

Tuesday – Milford Elementary School, 450 S. 700 West

Wednesday – Cedar City High School, 703 W. 600 South

Thursday – St. George Branch, Washington County Library, 88 W. 100 South

Feb. 22 - Pine Valley Fire Station, 860 E. Main

Feb. 23 – Central Fire Station, 155 E. Center

Feb. 24 – Enterprise High School, 565 S. 200 East