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Price tag on power upgrade? Billions

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Adding new power transmission lines in the West in the next decade could cost between $2.1 billion and $12 billion, depending on what resource is used to generate the electricity.

Those are the estimates of a group studying power transmission for the Western Governors Association, which will receive a final report Aug. 13.

The group's draft report, released Monday, was discussed Thursday by the Utah Energy Policy Task Force. The association is trying to find ways to remove bottlenecks from the current transmission grid in the West to allow for the freer flow of power to where it is needed.

The draft report indicates that if natural gas is used for nearly all of the new power generation in the next decade, the cost of adding transmission lines would be about $2.1 billion. That would put generation relatively close to the fuel sources, primarily in southern Canada and Arizona and New Mexico.

But if coal, wind and geothermal resources are used with natural gas, the generation plants will be closer to those resources and farther from demand centers. The resulting need for more transmission lines would push the costs of transmission to between $8 billion and $12 billion, with Utah seeing more lines added under the scenario because of its availability of coal for power generation.

Both scenarios are based on the West adding 48,000 megawatts of generation by 2010. One megawatt is enough power for about 750 average homes.

Task force co-chairman Sen. Leonard Blackham, R-Moroni, expressed concerns about who will pay for the new transmission. If Utah builds coal-fired plants for power that can be transmitted to other states, he doesn't want Utahns to bear an an unreasonable share of those transmission costs.

Jeff Burks, state energy manager in the Office of Energy Services, noted that Utah's utilities are still working in a regulated environment. "My sense is our utilities are looking at (serving) Utah first and outwards second," he said.

The final report to the Western governors group will be used in part to frame discussion of financing and permitting and will be a starting point for analysis of growth, alternatives and prices.


E-MAIL: bwallace@desnews.com