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Plan aims to power up transmission lines

Project would upgrade Wyo.-Colo. electricity flow

Sep 28, 2005 Gargi Chakrabarty, Rocky Mountain News

A $318 million project announced Tuesday to upgrade transmission lines between Colorado and Wyoming could benefit both electricity consumers and producers.

Transmission lines are high-voltage power lines that carry electricity from power plants to substations for final delivery to customers.

The proposed project involves the addition of a 345-kilovolt line from northeastern Wyoming to the Ault substation, just east of Fort Collins.

Wyoming officials initiated the project to help that state's coal-burning power plants in the Powder River Basin sell cheaper electricity to Colorado homes and businesses along the Front Range.

The upgraded lines also would help Colorado power plants, especially wind farms along the state's northern border, to sell power in Wyoming and eventually other markets, including California, said Steve Waddington, executive director of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority.

The WIA, set up by the Wyoming legislature last year, is one of the partners in the project. The other two are the Western Area Power Administration and Virginia-based Trans-Elect, a private company.

Waddington said Wyoming's move was bolstered by the 2004 Rocky Mountain Area Transmission Study, which identified a transmission path near the Colorado-Wyoming border as one of three high-priority projects needing investment in power transmission.

"As a first step, in a few weeks we will solicit interest from private-sector companies - power generators and transmission operators," Waddington said.

"And then we will decide our next step, depending on the responses we get."

>Customers who use the electricity ultimately would pay for the project, and the modalities are being worked out, Waddington said. A transmission line could cost as much as $1 million per mile.

>Waddington said that if the project goes forward, it could be linked to the proposed Frontier Line - a $5 billion transmission line in the works that would carry electricity from Wyoming to California through Utah and Nevada.

That would help Colorado power plants, especially wind energy farms, to sell in California. And it would enable Colorado utilities to buy renewable energy - such as wind, solar and geothermal - from Wyoming and Utah.

"The development of wind energy is constrained in many areas due to a lack of transmission lines, and this (project) will help move wind energy more easily to the markets, primarily to Denver," said Craig Cox of the Western Business Coalition for New Energy Technologies, which lobbies for the wind-energy industry.

Amendment 37, passed by voters last November, requires Colorado utilities to get a certain percentage of their total electricity from renewable sources.

"There is little question that Colorado is going to need more sources of power, both from in state and out of state," said Jim Sims, executive director of the Golden-based Western Business Roundtable. "The primary question is, 'How long will it take to site such a line in Colorado?' It can be a challenge."

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