Battle Begins Between Energy Companies

Battle Begins Between Energy Companies

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John Hollenhorst ReportingDave Eskelsen, Utah Power-Pacificorp: "We're not saying there are going to be blackouts. But we know what growth projections are."

Suppose you flick on the light switch and nothing happens because there's not enough power for everyone on the Wasatch Front. That worst-case scenario is what Utah Power is trying to head off with a new construction project, a project that has touched off a battle between energy companies.

The problem is they don't have permission yet to actually build the plant.

Later this week, the Public Service Commission plans three days of hearings to sort out which company should build a new power plant. What doesn't seem at issue is the need. We need more electricity and we need it soon.

Heavy equipment is already moving dirt near Mona. Utah Power’s parent company, PacifiCorp, hopes to build a new gas-fired power plant there. Without additional power supplies, company projections show possible electricity shortages on the Wasatch Front as early as the summer of next year.

Dave Eskelsen, Utah Power-PacifiCorp: "Well, the worst case scenario is, if you don't have, you know, if you don't have adequate generating capacity, you can't serve all your customers. Some of them will have to be in the dark."

But the company is legally obligated to make sure that doesn't happen.

Dave Eskelsen: "Blackouts are not an option."

The project has already kicked off a big fight before the public service commission because other companies want to build the plant. And they say Utah Power is jumping the gun.

Steve Mecham, Attorney, Spring Canyon Energy: "I think everybody agrees that there's a need for the energy."

Steve Mecham represents another company that wants to build a power plant just three-quarters of a mile away. PacifiCorp sought bids from other companies and received dozens of proposals. But then PacifiCorp went ahead and chose itself to build the plant. Independent energy companies say the process was not fair to them or to Utah rate-payers.

Steve Mecham: “Did Pacificorp choose the least-cost alternative available to them? We don’t believe they did.”

Utah Power-PacifCorp says its in-house proposal was the best.

Dave Eskelsen: "It's the most appropriate and the best value for customers over the long-term life of these generating facilities."

The fight has touched off proposals for reform. Is there a better way to decide which companies will provide additional power? It's an important question now. Utah will likely need two or three more projects like this to keep up with growth and to replace older facilities.

Dave Eskelsen: "Some of our generating fleet was built in the 1950's and they do have a limited lifespan."

The Public Service Commission is expected to decide the issue quickly so the plant can be built by the summer of 2005. If it isn't, that would mean power shortages or much more expensive power purchased from other regions.

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