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Transcript: Energy transmission
"The grid" hit the news this summer when a large swath of the northeast, upper midwest, and eastern Canada suffered a long blackout. Getting electricity from where it is produced to where it is consumed is a technical challenge, and a political one too.
These are selections from the whole transcript. Some comments will also occur on other themed pages because they cover more than one topic.
Mark Maher: Well to put it bluntly we're living in an age where we need to almost rebuild our system, the transmission system. New transmission really has not been built on the Bonneville system since 1985 and we're currently in the process of building new high voltage transmission, but it's just to reinforce our existing system and to serve our existing contractual needs. We're not putting extra margin in that could accommodate new generation at this point. We're just able to keep up with the demands that are placed on us today by our customers.
Jim McClure: And, and there's an investor-owned component to the transmission system too, that is , they're not making investments in that system now for regulatory uncertainty more than any other reason.
Jim McClure: Well, but that's the regulatory environment and of course they work today because they're not at all certain that if they make the investment they'll get any return because they may be forced by, by some people to turn over those lines to access for other people with what they are fearful of not being an adequate return on their investment. So there, there's a, there's a regulatory aspect to the transmission system dilemma that we face today. But there are other costs that worry me too about today and Jude you mentioned what are people willing to pay and that's not just in economic terms its in environmental terms as well. The people have to make choices and that's why I think this discussion needs to be a public discussion we involving a lot of the public because they're going to have to make choices. I, I like the idea of, of the green power component to, to your utility bill on a voluntary basis that allows consumers to make choices say I'm willing to, to pay a little bit more because I believe that, that's important. Other consumers may choose something else, but certainly those are tradeoffs in the pricing of electricity which is a very major importance to a lot of people on limited incomes.
Ralph Cavanagh: Uh and so let's just keep that on the table, continue to look for the best buys, my optimistic view of this is that, that in fact we have a lot more options on the table than we had 20 years ago when Peter started this out. And we have them for both transmission and for energy production. And I just want to say one of the things Bonneville's doing that I think is great with transmission, putting all the options on the table. It's not, not viewing new transmissions lines, Jude, you wrote the story about this. Not saying that the only way to solve a transmission problem is a new line, there's a host of technology options; let's pick the best buys first.
Jude Noland: And that's one of the big problems, that's one of the big reasons that energy efficiency and conservation has, has not it I think going back to what you said Peter I think after the Northwest Power Act passed in the 1980 the '80s was a time of incredible growth in conservation activities a lot of utilities in the northwest were very creative in terms of things that they came up with, programs that they could do. With the start of the move towards deregulation and the Energy Policy Act of the early '90s utilities kind of stopped because they're saying well we don't know if we're going to have to do this. We don't know if we're going to get reimbursed for it. And so a lot of that activity as well as transmission, infrastructure upgrades and new generation all of that was put on hold because no one knew what was going to happen as the industry started down this path towards restructuring. So I think now is the time when we're coming back and conservation is seeing a much bigger emphasis you're seeing utilities get back into least cost planning where they take a look at what all these different resources are going to cost them to provide to their customers. And the other thing I wanted to point out is with the new technologies in terms of meter reading and other things you could take that away, the individual customer doesn't have to think about whether its costing him 5 a kilowatt hour at this point or 2 later you can do direct control of water heaters where people don't even know that the utility has turned the water heater down during a certain period. It can all be done automatically and not affect the lifestyle or the activities of the person in the household.
Mark Maher: We're looking at a least cost planning process as we rebuild this transmission system of Bonneville's reinforcing in the various areas of the utilities that we serve of looking at conservation measures for demand side management because it is becoming extremely difficult to site and build new transmission, even expand current transmission corridors that we have. We're also part of a 18 member panel that Bonneville is, is sponsoring and that is looking at screening criteria on all new projects that we'll be looking at our transmission and I believe we've identified three pilot projects that we're going to be looking at the demand side management.
Jude Noland: I think the other thing, something that Mark started to talk about that we really neglected to discuss is a problem of getting energy generated at a distant site -- a coal plant in Montana for example -- to population centers in Boise and Seattle and Portland. That takes transmission and as Mark said we haven't done much with the transmission system in a long time and part of the reason is because nobody wants you to build a transmission line in their backyard and that, to me that's the, that's the big issue that we're all ignoring. That you've got to move the power somehow and the more transmission you have to build the harder its going to be and so that to me makes smaller scale generation, energy efficiency, distributed generation makes a lot more sense because you don't need as many of those high voltage transmission lines to move that. Certainly the situation that we've seen here in the Northwest over the last few weeks with the sabotage or attempted sabotage of transmission towers makes it even more important. The more that we can site energy smaller sources of generation, less intrusive sources of generation, closer to load, closer to where the people are using the energy, the better off we're going to be, and we haven't even started talking about that.
Mark Maher: And that has to be part of the public debate on where we're going to site those resources.
Mark Maher: And if we're going to smaller, more locally distributed resources it's going to be "not build in my backyard again" the arguments we'll have to go through. If we continue with wind development the sites will get further and further away from existing infrastructure and transmission is going to become a major cost component of that too and so that's an issue we're looking hard at how, how can we minimize the cost of that transmission. Large coal plant development they tend to be mind mouth plants and they're far from grids also so as we look at that portfolio development the transmission component becomes a pretty large player in there. Even though transmission is probably what 10% of a rate payer's bill it's, it's the environmental, social impacts also that transmission bring along with it.
Corbin McNeill: And the more you move toward at least natural gas and/or potentially hydrogen generation sources you're going to have to build pipelines and pipelines don't have quite as much impact, but I don't know of any pipeline in the country that's been built without some degree of resistance to it at some point in time.
Mark Maher: We see that struggle today in generators wanting to site their power plants and then want Bonneville and in my case to take the business risk and build transmission without a commitment of funds upfront or a long-term contract and so we don't have the money as, as Peter mentioned earlier. Government funding is going down and our borrowing authority ability is capped and limited and so our resources, transmission systems a capital sink, it takes a lot of capital to keep that running and maintained and to do expansions takes large amounts of capital. We don't have that and so we're looking for generators who want a site to front that. They don't have the funds to do that now and so we're, we're seeing a real lull in, in development.
Corbin McNeill: And in fact you have private transmission companies now who may be willing to step in and do some of that; in fact the bypass on the Path-15 in California was in fact done in that manner.
Mark Maher: Well, and what we're saying is there's a real lag with transmission because we're not building ahead of need. When those generators do want to come on, when that demand is there and, and gas fired generation can be built in a couple years we can't build a transmission.
Mark Maher: Well, physically, as Jude just said, you cannot transport power out of the west. There's a limited interconnection, there's three interconnections in the country, one in the west, a large one in the east and then there's Texas. So in the west we are not interconnected, but there is a huge west coast.
Jim McClure: But there are people who want to interconnect us.
Corbin McNeill: Just open up another interconnect.
Jude Noland: The line losses you'd get to try and move, to physically move power from Oregon to.
Corbin McNeill: No I, I agree I think clearly the, the energy bill is going to reflect a victory for the Northwest and Southeast and mitigating some of the proposals to more nationalize the grid and protect the pricing and advantages that the Northwest has. And I'm not in disagreement with that as a concept. I think there will be a point in time in which, for the nation's health, we will need to make sure that we don't have disadvantaged, excessively disadvantaged areas of the country and energy supply is one of those, is a big, a big important issue for people. So I, I'm not agree by to keep current state of the energy bill.
Ralph Cavanagh: But we have never treated electric resource portfolio management as a national issue. We have treated it as an issue for the individual systems affected. The whole west is interconnected, but within the west there of course smaller systems. I think the biggest risk is not that someone else will take it away from us, but that we'll fail to seize our own opportunities.
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