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Administrator joins Gov. Schwarzenegger to commission Path 15

by Carolyn Hinkley

Calif. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, left, closes a disconnect switch as part of the commissioning ceremony while Deputy Energy Secretary Kyle McSlarrow monitors the action.
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The Path 15 Upgrade Project was officially dedicated Dec. 14 as Administrator Mike Hacskaylo, Deputy Energy Secretary Kyle McSlarrow and Calif. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger joined together to commission California's newest transmission line. The ceremony, in the control room at the California Independent System Operator in Folsom, marked the addition of a third 500-kV line that will relieve a significant transmission bottleneck between northern and southern California.

The line was energized for testing on Dec. 7 and released for commercial operation on Dec. 21.

McSlarrow said Path 15 stymied Federal and state energy officials during the energy crisis that caused rolling blackouts in 2000 and 2001.

"One thing that kept coming up over and over and over again was this thing called Path 15," McSlarrow said. "It was something everyone identified as needing to be fixed."

Since the added capacity is expected to significantly reduce California's electricity costs—about $100 million per year in normal conditions and more than $300 million when Path 15 helps mitigate the lack of hydro-electric resources in Northern California—Schwarzenegger said the new line "lets us access the most affordable power in the market and it helps us tap into renewable energy sources, like solar and wind power." Expanding transmission is a cornerstone of the Governor's energy plan, whose goal is reliable energy and lower costs for Californians. "We all know that better transmission improves our energy reliability," he said.

New project adds power for 1.5 million homes

Western managed the project and owns the new 84-mile, 500-kV transmission line, constructed by Maslonka & Associates. Trans-Elect arranged financing to build the line. PG&E constructed new substation facilities and reinforced existing 115- and 230-kV lines. The additional 1,500 MW of capacity on Path 15 is enough power to supply 1.5 million homes. The incredible amount of work involved to bring the project into commercial operation—including the placement of 246 lattice towers and 98 steel poles to support 756 miles of conductor and 168 miles of overhead ground wire—shows what an amazing feat it was that the project was completed ahead of schedule at a cost of approximately $250 million, 18 percent under its original $306 million budget.

SN Regional Manager Jim Keselburg, left, shows Deputy Energy Secretary Kyle McSlarrow, Administrator Mike Hacskaylo and Assistant Administrator for Power Marketing Liaison Bob Porter a map highlighting the Path 15 project area. (Photo by LaVerne Kyriss)

"All in all, it's quite an accomplishment to get the project financed and I congratulate everyone involved," said Hacskaylo.

The Path 15 Upgrade originally was envisioned in the 1980s as part of the California-Oregon Transmission Project, Western's last major transmission line project in California. The COTP is a 350-mile line from the Oregon border to Tracy, Calif., that was energized in 1993. The need for additional transmission became apparent during the California blackouts of 2001.

"So, more than a decade later, it's gratifying to see the line finally constructed to allow more power to flow between northern and southern California," Hacskaylo said.

Setting the example

So what significance does the Path 15 project hold for the future of the industry?

As a Federal agency, Western can seek appropriations from the Treasury for new lines that support the reliability of its 17,000-mile transmission system. The project has also proven that Western can partner with non-Federal entities, accept non-Federal funds advanced for construction and work out arrangements to repay these non-Federal investments when Federal dollars are in short supply. The Path 15 Project is a good example of how this effort can succeed, Hacskaylo said.

"We've shown that the public and private sectors, bringing their respective strengths to a project, is one approach to get the work done," Hacskaylo said.

(Note: Hinkley is a public affairs specialist in Corporate Communications.)

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