PG&E Moving on Line to Import Canadian Green Energy

By Published On: August 3, 2007

Pacific Gas & Electric is advancing a feasibility study that may lead to building a major transmission line from Canada into Northern California, company executives told a meeting of the Western Electricity Coordinating Council in Portland, Oregon, August 2. Preliminary economic studies show the line could cost anywhere from $1.7 billion to $4.25 billion, depending upon its route, capacity, and design features. “It would allow for delivery of renewable energy from Canada and the Pacific Northwest,” said Steve Metague, PG&E project manager. Another company official said the utility envisions the line would have a 3,000 MW capacity. The utility is carrying out the study in the context of the Western Electricity Coordinating Council Regional Transmission Planning Review process. The review is staffed by representatives of other power industry players, including PacifiCorp, Sierra Pacific, Avista, British Columbia Transmission, and the Transmission Agency of Northern California. Two basic alternative routes are under consideration, with various permutations. One would run over land and the other would go under the sea and come into San Francisco. Earlier this year, the California Public Utilities Commission approved a study by PG&E of a proposed undersea line (Circuit, March 2, 2007). Preliminary studies show that a line along either route could tap a variety of resources in Canada, including abundant wind power, biomass, and hydropower. They also show that the utility could import power from coal plants or oil sands cogeneration units too. “If you add resources in the north, you decrement resources in the south,” said Metague. Studies so far show that the line–which the utility wants to build by 2014– would displace the need to construct a wide mix of new power plants in California, including ones that run on wind, solar, and natural gas. Because of this, California renewable energy advocates opposed the CPUC’s approval of PG&E studying the undersea route. An economic analysis presented at the meeting in Portland showed that British Columbia wind power transmitted down the line would have a benefit-to-cost ratio of 1.03 to 1 compared to relying for the same power on the expected in-state renewable power mix. The feasibility study is expected to be completed by fall of 2008. If it comes out favorably, the utility then could pursue permits for building the line. It would hope to begin construction early in 2012.

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