WestConnect established as framework for regional transmission organization

TUCSON, Ariz., Oct. 15, 2001 – A broad group of electric transmission line owners in the Southwest has taken initial steps to form WestConnect, a for-profit regional transmission organization (RTO).

Founding members believe WestConnect will form the framework for an RTO for the entire Western United States.

Agreements and operating protocols for the RTO were filed today with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) by Arizona Public Service Co., El Paso Electric Co., Public Service Co. of New Mexico, and Tucson Electric Power Co., each of which is subject to FERC oversight.

These utilities, along with Salt River Project in Arizona, have agreed to fund start-up of WestConnect operations, which are projected to begin in 2004. Other utilities in the Desert Southwest and adjoining areas have been actively involved in the process and are expected to continue to be involved as WestConnect gets underway.

FERC has proposed RTOs to facilitate development and operation of transmission on a regional basis. WestConnect will strengthen reliability for customers and ease the transfer of electricity between regions.

It will do so by focusing on transmission line reliability, non-discriminatory open access to use of the lines, support for a robust wholesale market, and governance that is independent of market participants.

WestConnect evolved from an earlier Southwestern RTO development project named DesertSTAR, and it has used the operating protocols developed by DesertSTAR stakeholders through extensive negotiations during the last four years.

DesertSTAR Chairman of the Board Jack King said, “WestConnect is a logical step. I am encouraged by the actions of the WestConnect members in building upon the work of DesertSTAR to move toward an RTO for the West.”

The group turned to the for-profit governance structure, in lieu of the not-for-profit DesertSTAR model, in response to recent FERC rulings and a desire to create a governance structure that will encourage innovation and creativity in the operation and further development of the Western transmission grid.

WestConnect has been structured to permit involvement by investor-owned utilities, cooperatives, public-power entities and federal power marketing agencies, so it can transition into the RTO for the West. WestConnect is working closely with other utility companies and provisional RTO projects to explore expanding WestConnect’s service area.

WestConnect utilities say they are confident their filing with FERC conforms to the regulatory agency’s established organizational and operating guidelines.

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