Transmission lines lead from a substation in southern Wyoming in 2015. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

Scott Streater, E&E reporter

The Bureau of Land Management is set to release the preliminary environmental review of a proposed multi-state transmission line that’s expected to carry wind-generated electricity from southern Wyoming to major load centers in the West.BLM’s draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for the 412-mile-long Energy Gateway South Transmission Line Project includes a preferred route that BLM, the Forest Service and the project proponent, Rocky Mountain Power, have spent months developing.The proposed route listed in the draft as BLM’s “preferred alternative” would stretch from an existing substation in southeast Wyoming through a patch of northwestern Colorado and into central Utah, taking pains to follow existing power lines and the West-wide Energy Corridor, which covers 6,000 miles of public lands in 11 Western states.The route would largely avoid prime grouse habitat and sensitive public landscapes, but it could pass near the entrance of Dinosaur National Monument in northwestern Colorado and south of the Ouray National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Utah, as well as along the southern boundary of the Ashley National Forest in eastern Utah. As a result, a number of BLM and Forest Service land-use plans would likely need to be amended before a right-of-way grant could be issued to build the 500-kilovolt line.In addition to the preferred route, the draft EIS includes 33 alternatives that, depending on the route that’s eventually selected, could increase the distance of the power line to as much as 540 miles.The draft EIS will be published in tomorrow’s Federal Register, formally kicking off a 90-day public comment period ending May 22.BLM has scheduled 12 open-house meetings next month and early April along the power line’s proposed route, according to an advance notice in the Federal Register.

A BLM spokeswoman in Wyoming didn’t respond to requests for comment before publication time. But the Gateway South project is considered significant by the Obama administration for providing a steady electricity source to growing parts of southeast Wyoming and central Utah and helping develop strong wind resources in Wyoming that have been slowed by a lack of transport capacity.

Though the stated purpose of the Gateway South project is to “increase capacity and service reliability” for Rocky Mountain Power customers, the high-tower transmission line would transmit as much as 1,500 megawatts generated “from both renewable and thermal energy sources,” the advance notice says.

The preferred route in the draft EIS appears similar to BLM’s preliminary preferred route, which the agency unveiled for public review last summer (E&ENews PM, July 24, 2013).

BLM released the preliminary preferred route in July ahead of the draft EIS to give the public more time to see where Gateway South fits alongside other large-scale power lines that have been proposed to be built in the general area.

BLM has said it’s targeting completion of the EIS process and the issuance of a record of decision authorizing the Gateway South project in the next few years, with construction expected to start in 2018, according to the agency.

Rocky Mountain Power officials have said they want to bring the transmission line into service as early as 2020.

Rocky Mountain Power didn’t respond to requests for comment by publication time.

Gateway South is part of a proposed $6 billion Energy Gateway development project spearheaded by Rocky Mountain Power’s parent company, PacifiCorp, that would add roughly 2,000 miles of transmission lines capable of carrying 4,500 MW of electricity through Utah, Wyoming and Idaho.

The other projects are the similarly named 990-mile Gateway West and 235-mile Gateway Central transmission lines.

BLM issued a record of decision last November for the Gateway West line, approving eight of the 10 segments of the power line and allowing the agency to grant right-of-way permits to begin constructing segments across southern Wyoming and southeast Idaho (E&ENews PM, Nov. 12, 2013).

Rocky Mountain Power completed the Gateway Central line last May.

Though BLM’s release of the draft EIS is a step forward for the Gateway South project, which has been under some form of federal review for years, there are still issues to resolve before the line is authorized to begin construction.

As with the Gateway West project, and almost any transmission line project in the region, there is concern about impacts to the greater sage grouse and its dwindling habitat.

BLM, the Forest Service and its partner agencies have said they tried as much as possible to follow designated utility corridors. The preferred route in the draft EIS does not appear to run through any of Wyoming’s designated core sage grouse areas, which are considered critical to the bird’s survival and where the state has pledged to limit development.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is studying whether to list the bird as a federal endangered species. Nearly half the world’s remaining sage grouse live in Wyoming, and federal and state leaders there and across the West have said such a listing would damage the region’s economy.

But the proposed power line route would require amending nine BLM resource management plans in five agency field offices and one national forest, mainly because the high-tower transmission line would conflict with visual resource objectives, according to the advance notice.

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