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Big US transmission projects bank on wind power

SAN FRANCISCO - Power planners are eyeing new transmission projects to tap wind-generated electricity in the windy Plains states for delivery to cities in the Midwest and West.

The goal is to boost wind's piece of the energy pie, deal with a possible shortage of natural gas, and strengthen the reliability of the power grid, said Randall Swisher, executive director of the American Wind Energy Association.

If built, the projects -- called wind pipelines -- could add 30,000 to 60,000 megawatts of new wind power to the 4,685 megawatts already in place at the end of last year. That's enough new power generation to run up to 18 million homes.

New lines also would deliver electricity from conventional coal or natural gas-fired power plants.

There's no fixed list of utilities or transmission companies that could benefit from the early plans.

But planners said utilities like PacifiCorp, a unit of Scottish Power Plc SPW.L , and federal agencies Bonneville Power Administration and Western Area Power Administration are expected to take part, along with regional groups like TransLink Transmission Co. and American Transmission Co. in the Midwest.

The price tag is steep -- up to $20 billion to string new high-voltage cables from Montana, the Dakotas and Wyoming east to Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis, and south or west to Denver, Salt Lake City, and the Pacific Northwest.

No one yet knows how the the costs would be split up, but Swisher said the projects could be developed in phases, from sorting out new tariffs and rules for the grid to actual construction, with costs spread among electricity consumers.

Beyond the main east-west transmission paths, planners are studying four projects for central Arizona, Arizona-California, Utah-Wyoming, and Washington-Oregon-Idaho-British Columbia-Alberta.


These regional plans, which are still being shaped, stem from a study launched by the Western Governors Association in 2001 to ensure that the West would have enough power plants and transmission capacity to meet growing demand.

The governors were alarmed by California's disastrous experiment with deregulation and a lack of region-wide planning for new energy resources, said Doug Larson, head of the Western States Energy Board.

The group is working on models for new power grids for 2008 and 2013 that would be part of three Western regional transmission organizations (RTOs).

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is pushing RTOs to manage and ensure competitive access to the power grid and set up an open marketplace to signal to investors when and where the grid needs new lines or power plants.

Many energy regulators and politicians in the West, however, oppose RTOs because they don't want to relinquish control of their grids.

New transmission projects are expected to transport a mix of wind power plus electricity generated by coal and natural gas, said Jim Caldwell, policy director for the AWEA.

"There is a joint effort of wind and coal interests in the West now," Caldwell said. "Wyoming, for example, is a very large generator of wind energy (285 megawatts) and also has a lot of low-sulfur coal and coal seam methane. We can get a lot of energy out of Wyoming and deliver power to the Denver area using the existing grid."

If the U.S. could install 30,000 megawatts of new wind power by the end of 2007, wind generation could meet 2.5 percent of electricity demand -- equivalent to 3 billion cubic feet a day of gas, he said.

Story by Leonard Anderson

Story Date: 16/10/2003

Updated: 2016/06/30

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