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Northwest Transmission Study: 60,000 Jobs at Stake

Up to 60,000 new jobs annually and $55-85 billion in economic activity could be lost if new high-voltage electric transmission lines are not built, according to a report released last Wednesday by the Idaho National Laboratory (INL). The report was sponsored by the Pacific Northwest Economic Region's (PNWER) Energy Horizon Project, funded by a U.S. Department of Energy grant. INL recommendations include a call for a study of the region's natural gas transmission pipeline capacity.

The report, titled "The Cost of NOT Building Transmission," was aimed at policymakers in the Northwest region on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border. The PNWER was created in 1991 as a policy and planning organization that cuts across, state, provincial and international borders. PNWER maintains 14 working groups, one of which deals with energy.

A regional energy working group contracted with INL to evaluate the economic consequences of not building new major transmission lines, which are growing in importance throughout both nations as climate change issues accelerate the push to get more renewable-based electricity on the American and Canadian grids.

"In addition to considering our energy resources, we also need to have the transmission infrastructure to get those resources to consumers," said U.S. Rep. George Eskridge (R-ID), who noted that the INL report underscored the "vital" role that transmission will play in the region's future. "This report gives us, as policymakers, a better understanding of the cost of not meeting our energy needs as a region."

The bottom line of the report is that without additional electricity sources, economies cannot grow, and thus regional economic and job growth won't occur. INL said its scoping study allowed the development of an economic model to evaluate potential loss of economic activities, along with an Internet-based geographic information system that can integrate project information and results used in the study.

INL's report makes eight recommendations, most of which call for "follow-on studies" in related industry and economic areas, such as natural gas transmission pipeline capacity for the region; the influence of gas-fired electric generation; along with the relative value of electricity availability and price to economic activity among others.

Finally, it was concluded that another follow-on study was needed to look at "specific barriers" to siting multi-state and binational transmission, including environmental concerns.

PNWER includes representatives from Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington, as well as Alberta British Columbia and the Yukon Territory. They present a $700 billion regional economy, the report said.

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