GILLETTE - With its vast coal reserves, Campbell County is poised to benefit handsomely if the state is able to expand transmission lines and build new power plants.
Toward that effort, the Legislature and Gov. Dave Freudenthal approved $6.6 million in the supplemental budget for the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority.
The goal is to open new transmission corridors, export more of Wyoming's electricity generated from coal and meet the West's growing power needs.
The authority was created last year and a five-member volunteer board appointed. The money approved this year will allow full startup, including hiring a staff.
Freudenthal called the effort "the first of its kind to take shape in more than a decade of inertia on new transmission project plans."
"I think part of why it's happening now is being willing to take the risk to push it," he said Tuesday.
Economic swings have also delayed impetus for such projects, he said.
The authority will spend $1.6 million to employ a staff and the remaining $5 million on a feasibility study, said Mike Easley, board chairman and CEO of Powder River Energy.
"Our first task is to hire an executive director," he said. "We are now interviewing people, and would be thrilled to have someone on board by May 1."
The authority's mandate will be to assess potential transmission corridors identified in an earlier study conducted by Wyoming and Utah officials.
One possible path would begin in the Powder River Basin and extend south to the Colorado Front Range. Another would move from the Jim Bridger plant in Rock Springs to Utah or Idaho and on to Salt Lake City.
The third would create new transmission corridors through Utah and Nevada on to Southern California.
The study is expected to take at least six months.
Once transmission line design, the physical system, the economics and liabilities are established, then environmental studies can begin, Easley said.
Increased transmission capacity also would be a boon to wind power development in the state, he said.
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