Wyoming Silently Transforms Transmission Capacity

It’s no secret that the transmission grid is the weak link in power delivery to industrial and large commercial customers. Dual transmission feeds, expensive primary-side UPS systems and backup generators are common solutions for data centers. But large customers wanting power diversity to their location discover that footing the bill for transmission improvements is no bargain.

To learn more, I interviewed Damian Berger, Senior Electrical Engineer at Peak Power Engineering, Inc. who has researched wind energy and transmission issues in the West.

What gives Wyoming an edge with power transmission capacity in the West?

Wyoming is moving forward with plans to reinforce the transmission grid. In 2004, the Wyoming legislature established the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority (WIA), and, with $1 billion in bonding authority, commissioned the WIA to “participate in planning, financing, constructing, developing, acquiring,maintaining and operating electric transmission facilities and their supporting infrastructure.” The creation of the WIA was not an empty gesture. To date, four transmission expansion projects are underway with the support of the WIA.

Four? Give us a sense of the timelines required to get a transmission project off the ground to understand the magnitude of having four projects underway.

Transmission line projects can take two or more years to complete. The process begins with feasibility studies. Because the transmission grid is an interconnected system, the studies can be complicated, with multiple transmission owners being involved. Public interest and environmental concerns can significantly impact route selection. If conflicts arise, a project’s timeline can easily double.

Other states seem to be going in a different direction?

While policy makers are busy trying to provide incentive for utilities to upgrade the transmission system, Wyoming is doing what existing transmission owners are reluctant to do: take the necessary risks to increase delivery capacity. The payoff will be big. With the #1 ranked wind energy resources in the nation, interest in purchasing future transmission capacity already outweighs concrete plans to build infrastructure. Transmission owners in Wyoming are also moving forward with upgrade plans, but their process is necessarily slower.

Wind energy generation clearly benefits from this transmission capacity, are there other effects?

Not only do new transmission lines increase capacity, but they make the local grid more reliable and less vulnerable to outages. Some organizations are already taking notice of Wyoming’s potential. With $20 million in direct funding from Wyoming, the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) will build the world’s fastest supercomputer in Cheyenne, Wyoming. And the Wyoming legislature and governor are eager to attract more developers to the state with grant money earmarked specifically for data centers.

Any predictions on wind’s contribution to the greening of data centers?

Wind power is probably the first thing that comes to mind when talking about green power. Did you know, however, that the benefits of wind power are often offset by the long distance transmission from the wind farm to the consuming load center? Transmission and distribution system losses should not be overlooked in the green power equation. Having large loads in close proximity to abundant energy resources, including wind, is more cost effective and energy efficient than shipping power over large distances through the power grid.

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