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Lawmakers Caught in Transmission Line Power Play

TransWest Express LLC


As the legislative session winds down, lawmakers find themselves in the middle of a power play between energy businesses over an interstate electric transmission line.

A Denver company called TransWest Express LLC has been working on a 725-mile, $3 billion electric transmission line for years. One of its potential customers is the Blue Castle nuclear power plant near Green River that is being proposed by a former state legislator. Roxane Perruso, vice president and general counsel for TransWest, says a bill pending in the Senate would force her company to ink a deal with Blue Castle and other Utah companies.

“It’s as if you were building an apartment building,” she said, “and the Legislature came told you that before you could get a permit to build it, you were going to have to enter into an agreement with another company to satisfy any need they have now or in the future for apartments. And now they have you over a barrel.”

TransWest says House Bill 44 is unconstitutional, and it will sue the state if it passes. Trans West also says, if the bill’s enacted, it might have to scrap the investor-funded project altogether. Meanwhile, backers of the proposed nuclear plant and solar projects say the transmission line ought to benefit Utah, since it crosses Utah on its route between Sinclair, Wyoming, and Las Vegas, Nevada. Blue Castle’s President, Aaron Tilton says the bill is needed to protect Utah power companies.

“It allows projects that produce electricity to access markets and grow the economy in the state,” said the former state legislator. “If our projects, the two solar projects and ours were located in Wyoming, we would have no problem because we would have access already to the system because there would be an interconnection there. But because we are located in Utah, we have no access and we don’t think that that’s right.”

The bill has been so controversial that the opposing sides have nearly two dozen lobbyists working on. It was not clear Wednesday whether HB44 can win passage before the session gavels to a close Thursday night.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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