Increasing competition in the electric power industry is likely to entail a little-recognized major complication (em greater difficulty in siting transmission lines. The stakes will often be greater, the opposition could be stronger, and both put a premium on finding a process that can win public acceptance cost-effectively. Increasingly, the cost-effective solution will draw on strategic communications and political skills, not just engineering or standard "straight-line" economics.
There are at least three reasons why siting new lines is bound to become more difficult:
s More utilities will try to build lines to gain better access to other power markets, either to export power or purchase less expensive power. At the same time, the communities in the path of the new lines are less likely to be served by them and will see no benefit to offset the nuisance.
s Many new lines will encounter not only more sophisticated opposition about the perceived health threats of electric and magnetic fields, but also a relatively new form of resistance: claims about the alleged injustice of siting lines in low-income or minority neighborhoods.
s Electric power companies that stand to lose market share if new lines succeed will align themselves with the opposition.
Today's utility/energy service companies should consider a new transmission line not as a technical or corporate project, but a societal decision ... a community decision ... a political decision.
Create a Campaign Team
From the moment a utility makes the decision to build a transmission line and the engineers outline where it needs to go, a select group of individuals should come together and form the core of a team that can pursue siting approval in much the same way a candidate campaigns for public office.