Firms Take Steps to Create Regional Energy Authorityby Allan Brettman
The Oregonian, December 10, 2003
The action sets the stage for a new way to distribute electricity throughout six Western states
A better air traffic controller is needed to deliver electricity in the West, and that calls for a massive restructuring of the existing system, proponents of a sweeping plan said Thursday.
A key group of nine electricity transmission players, including Bonneville Power Administration and Portland General Electric, took the first step Thursday toward creating a new regional transmission management organization.
Their action merely adopts a set of by-laws for the organization, called Grid West.
But proponents and opponents agreed that the move, after about 10 years of discussion, sets the stage for a new way of distributing electricity throughout six Western states, including Washington and Oregon, as well as British Columbia. That could happen as early as 2007. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has been urging creation of the organizations nationwide for at least four years.
"We need a comprehensive solution to regional transmission problems," said Allen Burns, Bonneville's executive vice president for industry restructuring.
With Thursday's action, the proposed Grid West will hire a recruiter to find interim board members. Grid West, which now has a tiny staff supported by contributions from the nine transmission groups, also will refine proposed solutions for electricity transmission management and infrastructure construction.
"Grid West will be the central, independent authority that will ensure new lines are built when and where they are needed to ensure future system reliability," said Dave Kvamme, spokesman for PacifiCorp.
Earlier Thursday, Burns was among a diverse group of 70 participants who met at an airport-area hotel discussing the advantages and disadvantages of the proposed organization.
The gathering included public power representatives who oppose Grid West, an environmentalist group that could not get consensus from its members, and representatives for coal- and wind-power generators who joined in favor of the new organization.
Bonneville is the dominant participant in the existing multiplayer system, which Grid West proponents described as haphazard and inefficient.
Wind generators and new coal plants support Grid West because it's too difficult now to get a place in line on the existing system, said Natalie McIntire of the Renewable Northwest Project in Portland, which supports wind energy.
But opponents, such as public power representatives, believe Grid West is an unnecessary restructuring for a system that needs only tweaking. They said the proposed organization, if it is created, could result in higher electricity rates for consumers.
"Solving problems is not the real mission here," said Lon Peters, an economist representing publicly owned generators. "Institution building is."
Another public power representative warned that deregulation -- part of the motivation to create Grid West -- was a failure in California.
"You got hit in California," said Steven Marshall, assistant general manager of Snohomish Public Utility District. "You're going to get hit now."
Electricity transmission now is left in the hands of Bonneville Power Administration and, to a lesser extent, eight investor-owned utilities. The utilities, who also decided to approve the bylaws include: Avista Corp., British Columbia Transmission Corp., Idaho Power Co., NorthWestern Energy, PacifiCorp, Portland General Electric, Puget Sound Energy, and Sierra Pacific Power/Nevada Power.
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