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New renewable energy projects may find opportunity in old transmission lines

A Montana wind energy project plans to make use of existing infrastructure built for coal.

In large part, the existing electrical grid was built around hydropower, nuclear and coal and natural gas power plants. Those existing long-distance power lines are either filled to capacity with conventionally-generated electrons, or they just aren’t there, leaving vast swaths of the West — often the best places to build a wind or solar plant — without a way to get that power to the people who need it.

The bulk of the West’s transmission infrastructure is concentrated along the Pacific Coast, where it is predominantly oriented north to south, with few significant lines branching directly to the Interior West. But projects such as TransWest Express, Gateway West and Gateway South are seeking to bridge the gap between the coast and Wyoming, which has “some of the best on-shore wind resources in the United States,” says Kara Choquette, the director of communications for TransWest Express LLC. That project is being built primarily to distribute energy from a sprawling, 1,000-turbine wind farm owned by the same parent corporation, being planned near Rawlins, Wyoming.

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High Country News