Massive Wind-CAES Project Proposed to Power Southern California

A coalition of four companies are proposing to build a 2.1-GW, $8 billion project that would comprise the world’s largest wind farm in Wyoming, a huge compressed-air energy storage (CAES) system in Utah, and a 525-mile transmission line that would supply up to 9.2 TWh per year of electricity to Southern California.

Pathfinder Renewable Wind Energy, Magnum Energy, Dresser-Rand, and Duke-American Transmission announced the proposal at a media conference on Sept. 23.

The $4-billion wind farm, to be built, owned, and operated by Pathfinder, would cover 150,000 acres in Chugwater, Wyo., about 40 miles north of Cheyenne, using turbines supplied by General Electric. The area planned for the site has been identified as having some of the highest wind potential in the country.

The $1.5-billion, 1.2-GW, CAES facility would be developed by Pathfinder, Magnum, and Dresser-Rand at a site near Delta, Utah, 130 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, and would employ four 41-million-cubic-foot caverns to be carved out of an underground salt formation. Excess generation from the wind farm would be stored as high-pressure air during the periods of low demand, and the air would be used to drive a natural gas–fired combined cycle plant when demand is high.

Dresser-Rand previously developed the only CAES plant in the U.S., the 110-MW Power South project in McIntosh, Ala. Though the new plant would run on natural gas, the use of compressed air from the salt caverns will greatly increase the plant’s efficiency and responsiveness. Projected efficiency for the new plant is hoped to be around 85%, according to Dresser-Rand literature. Dresser-Rand is also developing a 317-MW CAES project in Texas.

The $2.6 billion transmission line, to be built by Duke, would connect the wind farm to the CAES facility, traversing Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah. Power from the CAES plant would be carried to the Los Angeles area by an existing 490-mile high-voltage line.

A formal proposal will be delivered to the Southern California Public Power Authority in 2015, the companies said. Jeff Meyer, managing partner of Pathfinder, likened the proposal to a “21st century Hoover Dam.”

A 2013 study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) identified the Wyoming-wind-to-California corridor as one of the most promising renewable energy markets in the nation. NREL projections found that power from such a project would be competitive with gas-fired generation in California even without incentives for renewable energy.

—Thomas W. Overton, JD, is a POWER associate editor.