Federal energy regulators announced plans Wednesday to accelerate permitting on seven major electric transmission projects, including lines in Oregon proposed by Portland General Electric and Idaho Power.
PGE’s 210-mile Cascade Crossing line, which could cost up to $825 million, is proposed to run from Boardman, Oregon to near Salem. The line would carry power into the Willamette Valley from wind farms in Eastern Oregon and – PGE hopes – from multiple natural-gas fired plants that the utility wants to build in Boardman to replace the coal plant that it has agreed to close in 2020.
PacifiCorp has agreed to take an ownership stake in the project, which is also expected to serve wind farm developers looking to get around regional transmission bottlenecks to ship more wind power south to California.
Idaho Power’s Boardman to Hemingway line, a 298-mile, $820 million project, starts in essentially the same place and runs southwest along I-84 to a substation near Boise. That project would supplement existing lines that are often at capacity, and allow utilities in Idaho and Oregon to ship power back and forth depending on demand.
Both lines are controversial, with opponents questioning their environmental impacts on public and private lands, as well as the need for the transmission capacity at a time when the recession has severely crimped demand for electricity. The utilities maintain that both lines are need to modernize and bolster the region’s grid.
Federal permitting of a transmission line can take 10 to 15 years, with an alphabet soup of agencies running independent evaluations of the projects impacts. The pilot project, which the feds are calling the Rapid Response Team for Transmission, will coordinate efforts among federal agencies to get the projects across the starting line much faster.
“It’s not superfast even when we speed it up,” Lauren Azar, Senior Advisor to Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, said on a media conference call held Wednesday to discuss the initiative.
Officials on the call, including Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said the team was part of the Obama Administration’s efforts to catalyze job growth and modernize the electrical grid to speed the country’s transition to green energy.
Neither of the lines in Oregon and Idaho are on the verge of starting construction, but there could be some immediate jobs for engineers and lawyers as the companies pursue permits more aggressively.
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