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BPA Chief Urges Energy Development for West, Canada

by William McCall, Associated Press
The World (Coos Bay, OR), November 22, 2003

PORTLAND -- The chief of the Bonneville Power administration says the West and Canada need to move quickly to expand electric generating and transmission capacity in order to sustain economic growth and prevent another crisis like the one that short-circuited the region in 2001.

Steve Wright told a conference of regional energy and utility industry leaders that the 2001 crisis was triggered by record drought that reduced hydroelectric capacity, failed utility deregulation in California, and illegal market manipulation by Enron Corp.

"But I believe if you did an analysis of the root cause, I think you'd find the fundamental problem was a lack of investment in energy infrastructure," Wright told the Pacific Northwest-Western Canada Energy Forum on Friday.

Wright noted that Bonneville operates 75 percent of the high-voltage transmission lines in the Pacific Northwest but there has been very little expansion of the system in the past 15 years.

Since he took over the Portland-based federal power marketing agency in the middle of the energy crisis, he said Bonneville has doubled its investment in the transmission system.

The Pacific Northwest energy system is a linchpin in the Western grid that stretches across 11 states, but it depends on hydropower for 60 percent of its capacity, compared to an average of about 15 percent for other regions.

The distinction, Wright said, is a key issue in the effort to build regional transmission organizations under a mandate by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has asked the utility industry to develop a better system of sharing power and preventing breakdowns like the one that caused the massive Northeast blackout last August.

Generating plants in the East and South can compete more easily on prices and run on coal, natural gas or nuclear power that allows a steady flow of electricity which can be adjusted to respond to local demand.

But Bonneville has to deal with unpredictable weather and seasonal fluctuations in the water supply to maintain a steady flow of electricity from the system of dams along the Columbia and Snake rivers, Wright said.

If demand increases, it is not always possible to generate more power through the hydroelectric system.

"The Northwest is different from the rest of the country," Wright said. "A system of competition between plants doesn't work as well for us."

Yakout Mansour, vice president of the British Columbia Transmission Corp., warned the Northwest remains vulnerable to a blackout like the one that crippled cities from New York to Detroit last summer.

Like Wright, he urged increased generation and transmission development or the energy supply will fail to keep up with expected growth.

"Is the West prepared for economic recovery? I have a very simple answer," Mansour said, "No!"

William McCall, Associated Press
BPA Chief Urges Energy Development for West, Canada
The World (Coos Bay, OR), November 22, 2003

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