TCS Daily

Putting Power Transmission In Perspective

By Conrad Burns - September 2, 2003 12:00 AM

As the recent blackout in the Northeast has reminded us, we can have all the power generation in the world but without a way to transmit it to the needed areas, it's like trying to push freeway traffic down a dirt road.


Montana has vast energy resources and a significant surplus of production. In 2001 as California faced rolling brownouts, power generated in Montana couldn't get there fast enough due to inadequate links between our state and the west coast. These linkages between power grids, or 'interties' have become bottlenecks in our national energy distribution strategy, on top of congestion that already exists within individual systems.


Over a year ago, I spoke in a Senate Energy Committee hearing about the inadequate transmission capacity in our nation, and warned of problems ahead. I was not the only one. President Bush issued a similar warning in his National Energy Report in 2001, and the North American Reliability Council predicted a similar event to what we faced in the Lake Erie Loop region.


Many of my colleagues and I saw an immediate need to head off this problem. I joined a bipartisan coalition of Northwest Senators to push for legislation increasing the Bonneville Power Administration's borrowing authority by $700 million, which allowed them to begin construction on new transmission infrastructure in the Northwest for the first time in fifteen years.


I was also able to secure funding through my position on the Senate Appropriations Committee to upgrade the Western Area Power Administration's Miles City intertie in Eastern Montana. Improvements to that intertie would be equivalent to increasing a highway from a two-lane to an interstate freeway system.


As the energy bill goes to the joint House-Senate conference committee this month, we must take from the lesson learned and improve our transmission infrastructure on the national level. Within the current energy bill we have several opportunities to address problems that contributed to the blackouts. We need to improve and enforce system reliability, we need to identify corridors for future transmission needs, and we must force federal agencies to work in concert with one another and with local governments on transmission projects. These are all issues of vital importance to Montana and the country, and I will be working with my colleagues on the Senate Energy Committee to make sure they are addressed to secure America's energy future.


Senator Conrad Burns is a senior member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.


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