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Alaska Applies for Transmission-Only Utility

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Nevelyn Black is an independent writer with a background in broadcast and a keen interest in renewable energy.  In the last few years, she transitioned from celebrity interviews and film shoots...

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Four Alaska utilities submitted an application to the Regulatory Commission of Alaska to form a transmission-only utility in Alaska’s Railbelt region.  The four utilities are Golden Valley Electric Association (GVEA), Anchorage Municipal Light and Power (ML&P), the City of Seward, and Homer Electric Association (HEA).   They have worked for more than four years to evaluate how to create a transmission-only utility that will best serve customers in the area.  To better equip themselves for the task, the utilities reached out to American Transmission Co., (ATC) a Wisconsin-based transmission-only utility for best practices and lessons learned.  

The American Transmission Company became the first multi-state, transmission-only utility in the United States in 2001.  Since then, the company has created partnerships and built relationships to increase assets, improve transmission and connect 6,100 megawatts of new generation at 28 sites.  Their 2017 annual report reflects steady growth margins and their business model could be a new opportunity for utilities.  It will be for Alaska if, after a six-month review, the application is approved.

A transmission-only utility system allows energy producers to focus solely on transporting electric power from where it’s generated to where it’s needed. ATC describes it as being similar to the interstate highway system with high-voltage electricity traveling on the transmission system wires like vehicles on the highway. On more than 9,600 miles of high-voltage transmission lines and more than 550 substations, ATC provides electric transmission service from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, to the eastern half of Wisconsin and into portions of Illinois.  Their transmission-only model successfully provides communities with access to local and regional energy sources. 

The Regulatory Commission of Alaska will have to consider the pros and cons of the application.  The main advantage of high voltage transmission is that large amounts of electricity can be transmitted at relatively low currents.  Because less current is needed and smaller conductors can be used high voltage transmission is economically sound.  The disadvantages include known risks involved when lines are carrying 345,000 volts over long distances.  High voltage enables the electricity to arc through air and therefore can be dangerous.   Also, expensive transformers are required to step voltage up and down as needed.  However, the prospects of expanding infrastructure while alleviating stability issues on the grid may outweigh any perceived disadvantages.  As of the four transmission-only utilities in the country,  ATC has completed over 80 transmission projects proving they have the experience required to help other utilities interested in a new business model.  Could transmission-only services create new opportunities for utilities?  

 

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