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Six new wind farms planned for Wyoming

CASPER — Six proposed wind farms could add more than 1,600 megawatts of electricity generation capacity to Wyoming’s grid by 2024, according to an announcement this week by utility Rocky Mountain Power’s parent company, PacifiCorp.

If built, the 19 wind, solar, battery storage and transmission proposals that made PacifiCorp’s shortlist would span four states with a collective capacity of 3,200 megawatts.

The proposals concentrate wind development in Wyoming and Idaho, and solar development, including battery storage, in Utah and Oregon. Nearly 1,000 megawatts of battery capacity is proposed across the two states.

Unlike power plants, wind turbines and solar panels can’t generate electricity on demand. Installed battery capacity reduces the volatility of renewables by storing unused electricity and releasing it to the grid later on. In recent years, the costs of battery storage have plummeted.

“Most of our early wind and solar projects, of course, were tied directly to the transmission system. They were dependent upon when the resource was available, when the wind was blowing, or when the sun was shining,” said PacifiCorp spokesman David Eskelsen. Battery storage eliminates those limitations.

While PacifiCorp has trialed battery storage through small-scale demonstration projects, this would be its first utility-scale battery installation.

The shortlist announcement comes on the heels of PacifiCorp’s Energy Vision 2020 initiative, which added more than 1,000 megawatts of wind resources and transmission to its generation capacity.

PacifiCorp’s latest round of renewable development began in October 2019, when the company’s biannual economic analysis identified renewables as a highly cost-effective electricity source.

“Planning process after planning process for the company has shown that Wyoming wind tops the list of cost competitiveness. It’s just incredibly affordable,” said Shannon Anderson, staff attorney for the Powder River Basin Resource Council, a Wyoming-based landowner and conservation group.

The utility’s call for proposals the following July yielded feasible bids totaling more than 28,000 megawatts of capacity. Over the year that followed, the company cut its original list of bids down by nearly 90 percent. It developed the shortlist in May and finished evaluating the final 19 projects earlier this month.

It’s still early for the shortlisted projects. They’ve already undergone scrutiny from PacifiCorp and two independent evaluators, but contract negotiations between the utility and the projects’ third-party developers, local and state permitting processes and state regulatory reviews are yet to come.

Wyoming’s six new wind farms would be built by their developers. During early contract negotiations, PacifiCorp would decide whether it intends to purchase power directly from a facility over a set period of time — usually 20 years — or buy the entire project from the developer after construction is complete.

Though the projects’ locations have not been disclosed, if they’re approved, they could bring jobs and revenue to the state. Wyoming’s existing wind generation tax generates a little over $4 million annually.

Past attempts to raise Wyoming’s tax on wind energy have failed in the Legislature.

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