The Frontier transmission line may have been grabbing headlines ever since it was endorsed by the governors of Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California in early April, but it is not the only long-haul Western transmission line being discussed. New long-haul transmission line proposals include building a DC line from the Alberta oil sands to California. An already-permitted right-of-way between Midpoint, Idaho, and Las Vegas, Nevada, could fit into the scheme planned by Frontier. Such lines follow state policies that favor a portfolio of energy sources instead of building new power sources in load centers. ?We?ve got some live proposals out there,? said Doug Larson, Western Interstate Energy Board executive director. The Denver-based organization advises the Western Governors? Association on energy issues. Frontier is just one part of a larger transmission planning study whose name evokes an image of a German industrial rock band: RMATS, short for Rocky Mountain Area Transmission Study, calls for local transmission upgrades in Colorado, Montana, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming. It also poses the idea of exporting 3,900 MW?including to California. RMATS was launched in 2003 by Utah governor Michael O. Leavitt and Wyoming governor Dave Freudenthal. The study group involved former Utah state utilities regulator Jim Byrne as facilitator. In a report issued last September, RMATS planners raised the power export idea based on economic models showing a wide discrepancy in power costs between Wyoming (low cost) and California (high cost). Planners concluded that linking the two states with transmission lines could bring lower-cost electricity generated across the Rocky Mountain region to California. For the power export plan to work, however, RMATS calls for two of five possible 500 kV transmission lines to be built to the West Coast, Nevada, and Arizona markets. One of those lines is now dubbed the Frontier Line. The second line, which planners say must also be built, has yet to win endorsement. Not everyone is ready to endorse even a single transmission line, however. ?The rest of the world is building power generating facilities next to where the power is needed,? said Bob Fulkerson, director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN), based in Reno. He sees the current plans for building new transmission as exporting air-quality issues from lower-quality air regions of California to higher-quality airsheds farther east. Fulkerson said his group has recently begun discussions with other advocacy organizations in Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming to oppose building long-haul transmission lines. One concern is that the RMATS plan makes no specific provision for transmission access for renewable energy sources. Larson acknowledges that the plans include no overt effort to accommodate renewables, relying on end-user markets to determine who will gain access. State energy officials, including Joe Desmond, California Energy Commission chair, and Steve Ellenbecker, Wyoming energy and telecom policy adviser, are beginning to work to sell private developers on the idea of building the transmission lines, Larson said. The sales job is likely to include arguments favoring fuel diversity in electricity generation. Diversity tends to support building long-haul transmission lines, he said. A decade ago, low-cost natural gas generation was promoted as promising both improved efficiency and lower emissions. Natural gas?fired power plants also could be built closer to load centers, reducing the need for long-haul transmission lines. Baseload coal-fired power plants such as those built in the 1970s and early 1980s?and their thousands of miles of transmission lines?fell out of favor. But natural gas suffers from price volatility. Recent high prices for the fuel are leading planners to reconsider placing too much reliance on the fuel. ?At $7 [per MMBtu] for gas, people begin to look for an alternative,? Larson said. ?There is an underlying area of agreement that fuel diversity is probably useful.? With a mix of geothermal, wind, and coal resources being discussed, very long transmission lines once again are being looked at, some potentially reaching as far as the coal fields of northeastern Wyoming. Among the major lines that are being discussed or with studies under way are:<ul><li>A 2,000 MW, 500 kV DC line that TransCanada would build from natural gas and oil fields in Alberta to the U.S., terminating either in the state of Washington or in Southern California. The proposal has been circulating for several years.<\/li> <li>A transmission line proposed by the Southwest Transmission Study (SWAT) to move 4,000 MW of wind power from eastern New Mexico to markets in Arizona and California. With a price tag in the billions of dollars, it seems doubtful that the line would be built just to carry wind power, said Robert Kondziolka, SWAT chair.<\/li> \t <li>A 500 kV line between Midpoint, Idaho, and Las Vegas that was successfully permitted in the 1990s but never constructed. That route could become a backbone for the Western power export plan.<\/li> <li>A possible transmission line to the Pacific Northwest. Montana-based Northwest Utilities held an open season last year to gauge interest in such a line. The open season produced as much as 2,400 MW of potential interest. That result ?shocked everyone,? Larson said. Whether or not that interest continues once firm commitments are required remains to be seen.<\/li><\/ul>Critical issues remain to be resolved if any long-haul transmission is built in the West. Among topics being discussed are who will pay for the line, how its costs will be allocated across the region, and who benefits, Larson said. As a first step toward reaching agreement, the Committee on Regional Electric Power Cooperation formed a working group last October to decide how siting and cost-allocation issues work across the region and to help potential developers understand how they might be paid for their multibillion-dollar investment. The working group is all but starting from scratch, Larson said. After all, he said, ?We haven?t built a lot of long-distance transmission in the West in the last 20 years.?