New power lines may be coming to Houston

HOUSTON — Increased electricity demand and concerns about the reliability of  aging power plants are driving a proposal for new transmission lines to Houston.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state grid planner, is  considering proposals for a new transmission line to Houston that would make it easier to move electricity from other parts of the state and take some of the pressure off lines north of the city.

“New generation additions in the (Houston) area have not kept pace with load growth,”  ERCOT wrote in a recent report on the state of Texas transmission lines.

Retirements of some power plants and plans to shut down others have boosted the need to import electricity, the agency said.

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Various power transmission companies, including CenterPoint Energy, which serves the Houston area, submitted proposals for new lines.

The Electric Reliability Council will review the proposals this spring, then select options for further environmental and routing reviews likely to take several months.

The Public Utility Commission of Texas, which has final authority on approving transmission projects, then will be begin evaluations that also will take several months.

The new lines could help relieve higher electric consumer prices that have resulted from existing lines running at full capacity in carrying power to Houston from power plants north of the city.

The grid planner’s report cited an example of congestion in a single such line that led to $29 million in extra costs.

New transmission lines also could help ensure reliability as some Houston plants that are more than 40 years old require additional downtime for maintenance of shut down altogether.

“What we see five years out is a reliability issue in Houston,” said John Kellum, vice president of the high voltage power delivery group for CenterPoint Energy. “If the capacity does not increase in that time, our ability to meet the demand of our growing economy will be impacted.”

CenterPoint’s proposal for a transmission project serving Houston is one of several proposed for the state in the next five years, with a combined price tag of more than $3.6 billion.

Other proposals include new lines and upgrades in the Eagle Ford Shale and Permian Basin, where increased oil and gas activity has put significant pressure on the grid.

Eagle Ford transmission work costing  $331 million already is slated for completion between 2014 and 2017.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas also is looking to upgrade outdated transmission serving the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

And it is evaluating possible additional needs in West Texas, where the $6.9 billion  Competitive Renewable Energy Zones projects, or CREZ lines, completed last last year, now connect West Texas generation with population areas in Central and East Texas.