POWER PUZZLE | SierraSun.com

POWER PUZZLE

Christine StanleySierra Sun

Ask an energy expert to explain power transmission and he or she will likely say that the most poorly understood machines invented by man are interconnected electric systems.If that doesnt instill enough confidence in the lay person, add the fact that Truckee has an entire set of unique transmission constraints, and things really get jumbled. Getting power to Truckee is like trying to get water from the middle of a garden hose, explained Randy Harris, former general manager of transmission for Sierra Pacific Power. The hose is running between a pool of demand in the Sacramento valley and a pool of demand in the Washoe Valley; its filled to capacity and no one wants to share with the little town in between.Were so small that the leverage we have in the entire system is zero, said Ron Hemig, a Truckee Donner Public Utility District board member.Sierra Pacific Power owns the transmission lines that run from Nevada to Donner Summit, and therefore dictates Truckees ability to move energy from the east, according to Harris. Meanwhile, the Pacific Gas & Electric Co. owns the transmission lines that run from Donner Summit into the Sacramento Valley. Those lines meet the needs of rapidly growing communities such as Rocklin, Rancho Cordova and Folsom and are often full to capacity, according to UC Davis retired professor of Environmental Science & Policy Bob Johnston, who also said that because of capacity limitations, the utility district in Truckee often cannot gain access to power suppliers west of the summit.If the Truckee Donner Public Utility District wanted to purchase energy say, wind energy from a California source, getting the power to Truckee would look like a very expensive game of connect-the-dots. Its got to be transferred through a network of other lines to the north of us to get it around us and enter Truckee from the east, said board member Joe Aguera. Do you know what that would cost? Every time we came on to someone elses lines, they would charge us for transmission.

In the closing months of 2006, the Truckee Donner Public Utility District and its ratepayers were feverishly debating a power contract that would have supplied the town with a fixed amount of energy from a coal-fired power plant in Utah. Some people favored the idea because the power would travel with ease to Truckee through Gonder, Nev., the power substation the district currently relies on. But the deal was rejected for a number of contractual issues and environmental concerns. Ratepayers demanded another option, so it was back to the districts drawing board. Finding viable energy options that include access to renewable resources has not come easily, said Stephen Hollabaugh, the districts power supply engineer. The board, however, was recently presented with an option that just might work.The district is a member of Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), a collaborative of 50 municipalities that promotes wholesale competition, fuel diversity and infrastructure development. By pooling buying power, more options are available to small municipalities that would otherwise hold little leverage.The majority of UAMPS members, but not the Truckee Donner Public Utility District, participate in whats called an all-in-pool. Members act as a single utility to purchase enough power to meet the demand of all participants, according to UAMPS General Manager Doug Hunter, who met with the board last week to introduce the all-in-pool idea. Participants can purchase any source of power in any amount, and because UAMPS has greater transmission access than Truckee, it can obtain power from otherwise unreachable sources and move it to the Gonder substation. Energy purchased through the pool is cost-based, not market-based, according to Hunter. He also said there is no additional cost to the district to participate, and that participation does not require a contract. Participants are, however, required to stay in the pool for a full 6-month season at a time.The board has not taken action on the all-in-pool option. If it would like to participate in the pools next 6-month purchasing season, board members must decide by Oct. 1.