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Apr. 05, 2005, Copyright Las Vegas Review-Journal

UTILITIES: Guinn backs transmission line plan

1,300-mile system could provide up to $1.7 billion in annual benefits

By John G. Edwards, REVIEW-JOURNAL

Gov. Kenny Guinn joined governors in three other states Monday in supporting the idea of building a 1,300-mile transmission line to link four energy-hungry Western states, including explosively growing Nevada, with planned wind farms and coal-fired power plants in Wyoming.

The transmission and related power plants would cost an estimated $13.5 billion to $20 billion but would provide between $926 million and $1.7 billion in yearly benefits. California estimated that it alone could cut its energy costs between $325 million and $400 million annually.

The other states signing the memorandum of understanding were Wyoming and Utah, but Montana's governor also expressed interest in the project.

While the four states are planning the proposed Frontier Line and generation plants, they are looking to the private sector to develop the facilities.

The Frontier Line would provide a way of shipping as many as 6,000 megawatts of electricity from coal plants at the mouths of Wyoming mines and an equal amount from wind farms, according to the four states.

"We're in the process of doing something new and bold," said Richard Burdette, Guinn's energy adviser. "This really is going to require a federal, state and private partnership. We haven't done anything like this in 60 or 70 years."

Burdette explained that the project will require the cooperation and coordination of four states, unlike typical but smaller transmission projects that serve only one area within a state.

The transmission line would start in the Powder Basin River area, using energy from one of the nation's biggest coal regions and windy areas of Wyoming. The transmission line probably would come close to the Salt Lake City area and then split into two lines, one leading to Las Vegas and Southern California and the other passing through Northern Nevada and terminating in Northern California.

The project also would entail development of power-generation plants that either burn coal or gasified coal using emerging technologies, he said.

The project also presents invesment opportunities for private groups. Utilities, such as Nevada Power Co. of Las Vegas, may have an opportunity to invest not only in the transmission line, but also in the Wyoming power plants, Burdette said.

"We plan to be involved," Nevada Power transmission executive Carolyn Barbash said. "It's a positive thing, and we expect there to be benefits."

She didn't know whether Nevada Power would want to invest in the Frontier Line itself.

Burdette outlined several potential benefits from the project.

By providing access to more sources of power and allowing for more competition among power generators, the Frontier Line could result in cheaper power rates for consumers, he said.

Also, it would provide a direct electrical connection between Nevada Power in Southern Nevada and Sierra Pacific Power Co. in Reno. That would enable Nevada Power to tap renewable resources, including wind and geothermal power, in Northern Nevada. Northern Nevada could also draw solar and wind power from Southern Nevada.

The Frontier Line also would provide a way to send that so-called "green power" to markets out of state.

"In 10 years, Nevada will be a big exporter of renewable resources, including solar, wind and geothermal," Burdette predicted. The states hope to have the transmission line operational by 2011 or 2012, a deadline Burdette called "pretty aggressive."