February 14, 2011 - renewable energy and transmission needs

Monday, February 14, 2011

As more renewable energy projects are built around the nation, the increase in energy produced - as well as shifts in where that energy is produced - may drive the need for new transmission lines to connect green power to customers.  For example, in New England, these pressures are behind transmission projects like the Northern Pass and the Champlain-Hudson Power Express.  This kind of transmission development raises questions like who should pay for these lines, as well as whether the lines will provide any benefit to the people living in states they cross.

Utah is facing these same questions, thanks to the proposed $3 billion TransWest Express transmission line project.  If built, this 725-mile long 600 kilovolt DC transmission line would connect Sinclair, Wyoming to a substation near Boulder City, Nevada.  The line is designed to transmit energy from up to 3,000 MW of wind projects east of the Rocky Mountains to customers in southern California, Arizona, and Nevada.  Although 429 miles of the transmission line would cross Utah, the project as currently proposed would not include any offramps to connect Utah customers with that renewable power.
Utah does not have a renewable portfolio standard (RPS).  RPS programs require utilities to source certain amounts of the electricity they sell to customers from renewable power.  Utah does have a statutory renewable goal of 20% of adjusted retail sales by 2025, but utilities are required to pursue renewable energy only to the extent that it is "cost-effective" to do so.  California, Arizona, and Nevada - the states that will be served by the TransWest Express transmission line - do have RPS requirements, as do most other states in the nation.

How will Utah respond to the TransWest Express proposal?  Is there desire in the state to be able to buy the renewable power that will be winging its way westward through the transmission line?  Can the state obtain any benefits in exchange for permitting the line to cross its lands?

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