Western Governors Strike Deal with Feds to Boost Transmission Grid

Seeking to bolster the expansive, 18-state regional power grid in their states, western governors last week signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with three key federal agencies. Bush administration officials and the state chief executives cemented the agreement during the Western Governors' Association (WGA) annual meeting in Coeur d' Arlene, ID.

The agreement to move forward on a detailed analysis of transmission upgrades was recommended by a broad-based work group appointed by the governors' group in early May. The work group's recommendations are contained in a report titled, "Conceptual Plans for Electricity Transmission in the West."

The governors have asked the Department of Energy, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the President's Council on Environmental Quality to help in their efforts to assure adequate financing and expeditious and cooperative action by federal agencies in the permitting of needed new transmission upgrades.

"A key component of this MOU is the agreement by the federal agencies to collaborate with the states on work plans and reports to address energy needs and requirements," said Gov. Dirk Kempthorne of Idaho, while urging the federal government to join in the states' lead. "The governors made clear that cooperative approaches among the states and with federal land management agencies are the way to expedite the siting and permitting of needed transmission. A firm date of not later than Oct. 15 has been agreed upon in the MOU to begin this cooperative state and federal effort."

Gov. Jane Dee Hull of Arizona, WGA's vice chairman, said the governors have worked "on a bipartisan, regional strategy to meet the energy reliability and affordability needs of the people of the West." She said the agreement is aimed at the region's near- and long-term future.

Gov. Jim Geringer of Wyoming and Gov. John Kitzhaber of Oregon are WGA's co-leads for energy issues. The reiterated the need for more "intergovernmental cooperation" and the creation of "partnerships" between the states and the federal agencies.

Although not all the WGA governors were present for the signing--notably California's Governor was absent--the WGA members reaffirmed the "strong and essential role of the states in meeting and assuring adequate and reliable supplies of electricity to citizens and businesses of the western states," a prepared news announcement said.

A spokesperson for California Gov. Gray Davis said late Monday that the governor was supportive of the MOU to the extent that he believes the "federal government needs to work cooperatively with the states, rather an imposing decisions on them regarding transmission and siting."

California has resisted initiatives at FERC to establish a western regional transmission organization (RTO) to replace the California Independent System Operator (Cal-ISO), and it is currently sparring with FERC over the creation and composition of the Cal-ISO board of governors, which the state unilaterally changed to a gubernatorial-appointed five-member body early this year from a much larger stakeholder board that previously had been approved by FERC.

WGA is an independent, nonprofit organization representing the governors of 18 states and three U.S.-flag islands in the Pacific.

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