Energy & Environment

Overload: Big Utilities Battle Over Who Powers Houston

CenterPoint Energy told state regulators today that big, power lines bringing electricity to Houston are becoming overloaded.


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transmitter connected to power lines
The Houston Import Project would add a new north-south transmission line similar to this one in northwest Harris County.

CenterPoint Energy lawyers testified Thursday before the Texas Public Utility Commission, hoping to get permission for what's called the Houston Import Project. It's a proposed 150 mile-long path of towers and wires that would bring power to Houston from plants far north of the city. CenterPoint is the utility company that maintains the transmission lines in the Houston area.

"This is at heart a very simple case. Electric demand in Houston has been increasing steadily for decades and it continues to do so," CenterPoint's attorney, Jim Barkley testified. "The transmission lines that deliver power from other parts of the state into the Houston area are already showing signs of being overloaded."

But also testifying were lawyers for NRG and Calpine, two big companies with power plants in the Houston area. Power "imported" for North Texas would compete with what they produce.

Their lawyer, Heidi Bloch, said demand in Houston for electricity may slacken if the economy tanks, negating the need for the new power lines.

"The fact is the oil market is on a steep decline, oil prices are on a steep decline. That has to have an effect on the Houston economy," Bloch told the PUC.

The three public utility commissioners postponed a vote on the project until they meet again later this month.

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