If we want to address climate change, permitting reforms are needed
Jul 27, 2023
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One of Wyoming’s biggest sources of pride is that we power the country. The nation’s largest producer of coal and a leading energy-producing state, we also have some of the nation’s best wind resources — nearly 50% of the best quality wind in the entire U.S. Recognizing the economic opportunity to harness this resource, in 2008 the Anschutz Corporation began to permit the world’s largest on-shore wind energy project — the over-3,000 megawatt Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project in Carbon County — as well as the TransWest Express Transmission Project . Combined, these projects were designed to deliver Wyoming-generated clean electricity to California and other parts of the southwestern U.S. Both energy projects are located primarily on federal land that is administered by the Bureau of Land Management.
Fifteen years later, the TWE Project officially broke ground in June with a ceremony at Overland Trail Ranch in Carbon County. If this project was a person, it would be a teenager now, heading to the DMV soon for a learner’s permit. Jokes aside, 15 years is concerning for any project proposal, but it’s especially concerning given the national demand for rapid clean energy deployment.
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Leaders from the Biden administration and Gov. Mark Gordon came out in strong support of this project. Gordon praised the project as an example of how Wyoming can lead a new energy future that recognizes the “urgency of addressing climate change” through innovation. There’s good reason for this broad support. The wind project is going to be an economic driver and jobs creator too, particularly for Carbon County, creating thousands of construction jobs and approximately 115 permanent ones. In state and local tax revenues, the wind project will have a major economic impact. It’s anticipated to generate:
TransWest Express estimates that $900 million will be paid in property taxes over the TWE Project’s timeline, with about $260 million going to Wyoming – the majority of which funds Wyoming schools.
The challenge before the nation now is to do this again and again, but a whole lot faster. This project is one of the first, but it can’t be the last. There may be few transmission projects that follow if changes aren’t made to the process to reach the finish line. TransWest’s 15 years are not unique. Multiple other projects on federal land have also faced decades-long federal permitting timelines: Gateway West, Gateway South, SunZia and the Boardman to Hemingway transmission projects. All of these projects spent years undergoing federal permit review as well.
Time is not on our side. Consider this: The TWE project’s right-of-way application was filed with the BLM in December 2008. That year, the Keeling Curve, which measures carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in parts per million read 385.46 ppm. Today, there are 422.37 ppm, an increase of 36.91 ppm just during the 15-year life of this project.
Out west, scaling up clean energy means that many projects will involve federal lands, so reforms to the permitting process need to happen at the federal level. Some common sense approaches and changes could include:
With the historic bipartisan laws passed during the last Congress, we have a unique opportunity to meet our climate goals, expand Wyoming’s economic opportunity and reinvent America’s economy. These projects in Carbon County are the first of their kind, but they can’t be the last. Lessons learned and reforms to permitting will ensure that the next project doesn’t take 15 years.
Nathan Wendt is president at the Jackson Hole Center for Global Affairs (www.jhcga.org), a non partisan organization in Jackson with a track record of working to generate clean-energy, job-creating, climate... More by Nathan Wendt Thanks for your support of WyoFile!You rely on us for the facts.People:Processes:Incentives:Authority:National Importance Designation: