Study: Cali could save $1B/year with Wyo wind

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CHEYENNE – A new economic analysis puts more oomph behind the idea of exporting Wyoming wind to California via new transmission.

The Wyoming Infrastructure Authority, a quasi-governmental “instrumentality” of the Cowboy State, Monday released data from a commissioned study at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The study makes the claim that Californian ratepayers could save up to $1 billion annually by importing Wyoming wind on a not-yet-built direct-current line.

California has a state government mandate to obtain a third of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, pushing other Western states to try to stake claims on the changing electricity landscape. Wyoming is among those, with past complementary reports commissioned by the Infrastructure Authority showing how Wyoming wind – which blows more often during the day at peak hours – would better fit Californian needs than in-state renewables.

In 2013, the state had targeted 20 percent renewable usage, a target it was close to achieving by August last year according to a legislative report. But the methods of supplying those renewables could be improved, and Wyoming wind could be the answer to cheaper rates.

“Consumers will win when their utilities can access cost-effective energy supplies, and it makes economic sense for California to obtain a portion of their renewable energy from Wyoming,” said Loyd Drain, executive director of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority in a release. “Wyoming has some of the best onshore wind in the United States. This study quantifies the benefit of connecting the best wind in the West to the state with the largest demand for renewables in the West, thus the California-Wyoming connection.”

At least some in California agree with the assessment.

“If California is going to maintain its commitment to ambitious renewable energy procurement goals, it makes sense to cast a wide net to find the least-cost and most efficient sources of renewable energy,” said Dr. James Bushnell, associate professor of economics at the University of California, Davis.

California Gov. Jerry Brown has been on the record in the past to say he favors sourcing the renewables within the state of California, however.

“You can’t blame any state for wanting to develop its own resource and that’s just human nature,” Drain said in a January 2013 interview. “California is famous for a lot of things, but wind’s not one of them.”

Developers have been vying to build large wind farms along with new transmission that would direct Wyoming wind into the southwest market, but even with the federal go-ahead, the largest projects are in a holding pattern until the transmission projects are green-lit.

The Wyoming Infrastructure Authority will hold a public stakeholder outreach meeting in Laramie at the Holiday Inn on Thursday. State Sen. Phil Nicholas will make remarks, and officials from the University of Wyoming, along with Drain, will give updates on the state of Wyoming’s utility infrastructure. The meeting will begin at 8:30 a.m. and is open to the public.

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