Expanding the Pacific Northwest/Southwest Intertie--Benefits and Impediments

RCED-84-38: Published: Nov 4, 1983. Publicly Released: Nov 4, 1983.

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GAO reported on the expansion of the high-voltage transmission lines (interties) which allow for an exchange of electricity between the Pacific Northwest and California to: (1) determine the status of previous recommendations that the Secretary of Energy take a more active role in expansion proposals; (2) examine factors affecting the expansion; and (3) determine what the Federal Government could do to accelerate the expansion.

GAO found that both regions have benefited from the interties. California has saved billions of dollars in fuel costs, while Pacific Northwest utilities have earned about a billion dollars from the sale of surplus power. In addition, the purchase of hydropower displaced oil- and gas-fired generation which lessened the Nation's dependence on foreign countries for fuel sources. GAO found that projected power deficits for the Northwest have changed to a projected surplus. Further, a consistent energy supply is available to be marketed in California if the existing interties can be upgraded. The utilities agree that an addition to the interties would be beneficial, but several problems are hampering utility decisions to proceed with development. There is some uncertainty concerning the amount of firm surplus that will be available, when an intertie addition could be built, how nuclear powerplant development will affect the market, the availability of Canadian surplus power, and energy costs. Another problem concerns legal restrictions that are designed to protect regional customers but which inhibit California utilities from expanding interties. Finally, many California public utilities have been unable to obtain access to the interties from the controlling private utilities.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should direct the Administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration to determine, after consulting with Northwest utilities, how much Northwest surplus power is available for marketing to California, how long the surplus power will be available, and how the power will be priced. As part of this, the Administrator needs to consult with the Canadian provincial governments to determine how much Canadian power might be available for export through the Northwest to California and at what price. The Administrator needs to determine whether the legislative impediments can be addressed in the negotiation process. If not, the Administrator should evaluate whether legislative changes would be appropriate to facilitate successful conclusion of the negotiations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should direct the Administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration to seek congressional approval for the two Federal power-marketing agencies in the regions, Bonneville in the Northwest and Western in California, to analyze and then develop the most cost-effective intertie addition or additions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

 

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