Sometime next year, construction will start on two renewable energy megaprojects, with a total estimated cost of $9 billion. Anschutz-owned companies have been planning the projects since 2006. Estimated completion date: 2019.
That’s typical of Anschutz deals. As a man with long experience in the oil and gas and railroad industries, he’s used to capital-intensive projects with long lead times. He knows from experience that such opportunities have payoffs that extend for generations, not just for a brief product cycle.
On a 500-square-mile Wyoming ranch, the Power Company of Wyoming plans to build the world’s largest wind farm. As a point of comparison, the state of Rhode Island is 1,200 square miles.
“The Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project will have the wind turbines and electric infrastructure necessary to reliably and cost-effectively generate approximately 2,500 megawatts of clean, sustainable electricity,” according to the company’s website. “It is situated on land that has some of the best winds in the state and in the country. The wind project is estimated to produce enough clean electricity to power approximately 1 million households, resulting in a reduction in CO2 emissions of 7 million to 11 million tons per year.”
For local perspective, 2,500 megawatts is 12 times the output of the Ray Nixon coal-fired power plant south of Colorado Springs, which emits more than 1.7 million tons of CO2 annually.
As you might guess, the Wyoming market can scarcely absorb such quantities of electricity. That’s fine — the electricity is headed for California, Arizona and Nevada via the TransWest Express 600-KV transmission line. The 725-mile line will run from the turbine site south of Rawlins through northwest Colorado, central Utah and southeastern Nevada, where it will terminate at the El Dorado electric power complex near Hoover Dam.
Anschutz owns the ranch, the Power Company of Wyoming and TransWest Express LLC, the company that will build and own the $3 billion line.
The project passed a major milestone on July 3, when a 2,000-page draft environmental impact statement was released by the Bureau of Land Management and the Western Area Power Administration. Four years in the making, the report “informs the public of various factors associated with this new transmission line, including its potential ecological, aesthetic, cultural, economic and social effects.”
The scale of the two conjoined projects is almost inconceivable. For example:
The wind farm will have its own railway, a loop from the nearby Union Pacific line (note: Anschutz is UP’s largest individual stockholder).
A 60-mile haul road will connect the rail facility with the turbine complexes. Individual towers will be accessed by another 372 miles of arterial roads.
More than 1,000 construction workers will be employed building the TransWest Express from 2014-2017.
At 2,500-3,000 megawatts, the wind farm will be three times bigger than any existing wind facility.
Yet the most remarkable thing about the project is not its scale, ambition and projected cost, but its driving force. Such deals are routine for publicly owned companies such as Exxon and BP, but those are vast enterprises with tens, even hundreds of thousands of stockholders. Anschutz is a lone wolf, a man responsible to no one but himself.
And like a true Westerner, he may hold the reins lightly but he never drops them. He owns 150 companies, and most have their own boards of directors. Every board member is an Anschutz employee, except one.