LOS ANGELES — U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham unveiled a $300 million plan Monday to break a transmission-line bottleneck that has kept power from flowing freely through the state during times of peak usage.
His proposal calls for expanding the state’s power grid capacity along Path 15, an 84-mile stretch of power lines running across the state’s Central Valley, by attracting private investment.
The improvements could increase the transmission capacity there by 1,500 megawatts –enough electricity to power more than one million homes.
“Our plan is a critical component in solving the long-term power crisis in this state,” Abraham told reporters during a news conference.
The lines are currently the only ones connecting the northern and southern portions of the state. Abraham said 13 companies have already submitted plans for the work. He didn’t release their names.
Federal officials plan to award a contract to one of the companies in the next 30 days, with the project likely taking at least two years to complete, he said.
The plan contrasts with Gov. Gray Davis’ efforts to acquire the transmission lines of the state’s power companies and thus allow the state to make improvements on them.
A spokesman for Davis expressed skepticism Monday that it could be implemented as successfully as Abraham envisions.
“Given the private sector’s failure over the past 15 years to make improvements, we’ll view that with suspicion,” said Davis spokesman Steve Maviglio.
Abraham has been making speeches around the country in recent days, coinciding with a House Republican effort to approve broad-ranging energy legislation before the end of the month when Congress leaves for its summer recess.
Officials have said the Path 15 bottleneck was one factor behind rolling blackouts that hit Northern California earlier this year. Though excess power was available in Southern California, it could not be moved fast enough to avoid problems in the northern portion of the state.
“The capacity in this area is simply insufficient,” Abraham said.
He said the proposed expansion is part of a nationwide project called for by President Bush to look into problems existing throughout the country’s power grids, including both bottlenecks and gaps.
Abraham noted that Mexico expressed interest in selling some of its excess power to California earlier this year, but the transmission lines connecting Mexico’s Baja California to California could not carry enough power to make a successful deal possible.
“This is a challenge many places in the country face,” he said.