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Transmission line project will help meet energy demand

Housing starts are creeping up. Unemployment is slowly coming down. Large construction cranes are once again prominent on the Boise skyline. While the regional economy is still not completely out of the woods, there are clear signs of hope that a recovery has taken hold.

Concerns about reliability of electricity supply have faded in recent years with the recession-induced drop in demand and with the startup of Idaho Power’s Langley Gulch power plant. But I expect these concerns to resurface as economic activity accelerates.

As we consider ways to match electricity supply and demand, the development of a more energy-efficient economy should of course be at the top of our list. Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has made increased energy efficiency a top priority and has established the Idaho Awards for Leadership in Energy Efficiency program to recognize the best of the best. Idaho Power, leading Idaho companies like Simplot and Amalgamated Sugar, and local governments including Ada County have all achieved major savings through successful energy efficiency initiatives. The Center for Advanced Energy Studies is building an Energy Efficiency Research Institute to help continue the drive toward a more energy-efficient economy; the institute is housed at Boise State and includes researchers from Idaho State University, the University of Idaho and the Idaho National Laboratory.

While we must continue local efforts to achieve greater energy efficiency, the time will come when we need to add new sources of electrical supply. And one of our region’s best options for increasing reliability, diversity and affordability of electrical supply is already on the drawing board – Idaho Power’s proposed Boardman to Hemingway transmission line, also known as B2H.

As I see it, the B2H project is all about creating options and increasing flexibility. The line would connect the new Hemingway substation near Melba to a substation near Boardman, Ore. Building this new pathway would provide access to low-cost hydropower, wind, nuclear and other existing electricity supply sources in the northwest.

Because electricity demand in the northwest tends to peak in the winter, while Idaho’s electricity demand peaks during the summer, providing increased connectivity should allow future electrical demands to be met in a way that holds down the need to build large new power plants. And because it is almost always cheaper to buy electricity from an existing plant instead of building a new plant, the B2H line should help keep rates down over the long run.

The advantages of the B2H project are well recognized among energy planners. That is why the Bonneville Power Administration chose B2H “as its top priority for pursuit in fiscal year 2013 and beyond.” BPA says the B2H option “has the potential to keep BPA costs low relative to the other options considered” and “to increase reliability of the Northwest transmission system.”

The federal government also recognizes the benefits of the B2H Project, selecting it as one of seven transmission projects for the new federal interagency Rapid Response Team for Transmission, tasked with improving the efficiency of federal-agency reviews and decisions necessary for new transmission infrastructure.

I expect we’ll be hearing more about B2H in the coming months as federal and state permitting agencies seek public input on the project. When those opportunities to provide input arise, I encourage Idaho’s business leaders to remain mindful of the important role B2H can play in our region’s energy future.

John Kotek is a managing partner at the Boise office of Gallatin Public Affairs and an expert in energy policy and communications. He can be reached at info@gallatinpa.com.

About John Kotek