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Columbia Energy Exchange

Meeting Electricity Needs in Drought-Stricken West


Tracy LeBeau

Administrator and Chief Executive Officer, Western Area Power Administration


Tracey LeBeau [00:00:05] For the region, drought, in its simplest form, it has amounted to less hydro generation and in some cases the prospect of no generate hydro generation at all. So there’s a lot of critical ways that this is already affecting the grid our customers and could potentially affect reliability in the future.

Bill Loveless [00:00:29] Almost 30% of electricity in the western United States comes from hydroelectric dams. But what happens when the water in the rivers dries up? The Western Area Power Administration, or WAPA, is responsible for providing more than 40 million Americans electricity. It relies heavily on the 57 dams in its service territory for supply. And over the past 20 years, the drought ravaging the West has been drying up reservoirs. Even the recent wave of snow and rain that dumped on Western states like California won’t be enough to fill them back up. But new transmission projects, which Weipa can help build, could provide more connection from the Western power grid to the east, and that would help stabilize the electricity supply. So how is WAPA planning to serve its customers in the face of a changing climate? And what role does transmission infrastructure play in meeting their needs? This is Columbia Energy Exchange, a weekly podcast from Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy. I’m Bill Loveless. Today on the show, Tracy LeBeau. Tracy is the administrator and chief executive officer of the Western Area Power Administration. She joined the organization in 2014 as the manager of the Transmission Infrastructure Program, where she oversaw a whopping $3.2 billion borrowing authority. Tracey has also served as the senior vice president and was responsible for managing transmission systems, operations and maintenance. She was appointed as CEO in 2021. I spoke with Tracy about how drought has affected wipers operations in the past few years. We also discussed how the power generation will change moving forward and how transmission needs of the West might be met. I hope you enjoy our conversation. Tracey LeBeau, welcome to Columbia Energy Exchange.

Tracey LeBeau [00:02:33] Thank you.

Bill Loveless [00:02:34] Good to have you here today and to discuss the Western Area Power administration and just as importantly, the Western United States and all that’s going on out there when it comes to energy issues and climate issues these days. But first, tell us a little bit about yourself, where you’re from and the path that your career has taken you.

Tracey LeBeau [00:02:55] Well, thank you for having me on your show again. Thanks. Sure. So my name is Tracy LeBeau, as you said, and I’ve been with Western Area Power for just a little over a decade. I have to admit, this is the longest I’ve ever been with a signal organization throughout my career and really, really enjoy the opportunity to put in my ear, put in some public service throughout my career. It’s been a real joy. Prior to this, I was provided a lot of advisory services to energy developers throughout much of my career. I’ve actually done a little bit of energy development development myself. Started off originally very early on in oil and gas development, mostly exploration production moved into midstream with a particular focus on natural gas, worked for a natural gas interstate pipeline for a while, got into some other midstream development opportunities and like all good natural gas, folks in the nineties moved into renewables, did that for did that for a little while, did some wind development, worked with kind of the usual suspects out there throughout the years, both either embedded into teams or advisory from a consultant standpoint or I was a one of the initial co-chairs of a budding renewable practice at the then Dentons law firm, which is a very large now international law firm. And yeah, so I was at Dentons when I got a call from then Deputy Secretary Poneman and folks Daniel Poneman, Daniel Poneman and folks from the White House to consider coming to the Department of Energy. I had not thought about public service, but it just felt like the right time and the right opportunity and really the right team. It was just a fantastic team at the Department of Energy. And so I was glad to have joined and got a lot of great experience at the department working there for a number of years as a political appointee and then came over to WAPA when I was asked to restructure and reopen the infrastructure fund here. And I’ve been here been here ever since.

Bill Loveless [00:05:34] That was back about 2014. I recall that you joined the Western Area Power Administration and and is part of there. As you mentioned, transmission infrastructure program went on, became the administrator ultimately. And you’re the first woman in that role at the western area power administration and also the first Native American to lead WAPA as a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe. What does that mean to you?

Tracey LeBeau [00:06:03] Well, I’ve got a very interesting background with Western area power in a lot of different ways. I am originally from South Dakota, and interestingly enough, so I’m as you said, I remember the Shining River Sioux tribe. So we’re both of my parents, the community that they were born and raised and spent a lot of their early formative years is actually underwater. It is one of those one of those communities that was inundated when a lot of these large stemmed dams. These were created and created those reservoirs and inundated and flooded out a lot of lands around the tributaries and around the Missouri River and the Dakotas. And so, you know, and I come from I definitely come from, you know, some familial knowledge. But also I you know, the community that I originate from is did sacrifice a lot to when these dams were built throughout the Missouri River. But that is the case for a lot of tribal communities that found themselves, you know, working with the Army Corps, working with the Bureau of Reclamation, you know, 50, 60, 70 years ago, as a lot of these projects got built along the Columbia, along the snake, along the Missouri, along the Colorado River.

Bill Loveless [00:07:30] Yeah, that’s that’s that’s so interesting. And how does that that history of your family, your your native background, how does that affect how you go about your work today? Remembering the history, looking at the impacts today and all? I mean, what what impact does that have on you?

Tracey LeBeau [00:07:50] Honestly, that’s one of the reasons why I ended up going to the Department of Energy in the first place. I wanted to as much as I could start to bring Indian Country and a better appreciation and also for the industry, a better appreciation of Indian country, and try to find ways to, you know, leverage the transmission, the transmission grid that was in their backyards. Of course, a lot of the tribes throughout the west and, you know, with Bonneville and others, they do get, you know, preference power. They do get allocations of hydro. But that that those necessary transmission systems that were built to deliver hydro from those dams went straight through Indian country. And so I looked you know, it didn’t take long for me just watching all the activity around the Recovery Act, then that way there’s an opportunity for some real community development, some community energy development, some clean energy development. And I was trying to really kind of bring those worlds together, do some education around them, do some technical assistance and outreach. When I was at the department through that through that period of time and as I come to WAPA, I, you know, I still feel a pull to want to try to find some solutions. Now that we have all these you know, there’s great infrastructure tools now and another big push for, you know, clean energy development and investment. I’m hoping that there’s some ways that we can, you know, make what was maybe a difficult period of time in their history and opportunities so they can really experience the promise of a this clean energy investment movement that we’re that we’re experiencing right now.

Bill Loveless [00:09:49] That’s so interesting. Well, the Western Area Power administration just marked its 45th anniversary. For those unfamiliar with this agency, what is WAPA? What does it do?

Tracey LeBeau [00:10:03] Well, Western area power was created just a little over 45 years ago when these dams were originally built, constructed, started up or, you know, started operations. We needed the train. We needed to build the transmission to actually deliver this hydropower to the communities that were they were intended to serve. And really a lot of, you know, the initial thinking behind water development and hydropower was to help develop the west, get water where it needed to go in some cases, and also provide some hydropower to deliver to communities that were, you know, very rural oftentimes and maybe, you know, didn’t have the opportunities for a large investor owned utility to, you know, string wire to, you know, to those types of communities. So that was the initial thinking when all of that was built and Congress saw fit. And I think this was the right decision to separate out the ownership and management of the dams. So. Army Corps of Engineers repair of reclamation has those that can maintain that ownership and operations of those and separated out transmission into separate entities that that is how Western area power was created to really focus on the delivery of that power that really the massive transmission grid that was built out. Over decades. And so we have over 17,000 miles of high voltage transmission throughout our 15 state footprint. And so that is a lot of you know, that is a lot of grid to manage and operate. And but inherent in what we do, our mission is in our name, where we market power. We are a power marketing organization that our core mission is to deliver to that hydropower. But in many cases, particularly for smaller communities and rural communities that we serve, they they would they look to us to also supplement their power. So we go out into the market on occasion and supplement that power. If we can’t deliver all of the hydro that they need to meet their meet their load requirements.

Bill Loveless [00:12:35] Right. And I understand some provides electricity that is WAPA to some more than 40 million people in the West and as you say, also runs a transmission program and includes developing and upgrading new and existing infrastructure to facilitate the delivery of renewable generation, which is becoming big in the West as it is in other places. Well, you know, when I when I spoke with your staff, I told them that our conversation would be not just about WAPA, but also and perhaps maybe even more importantly, about the Western United States and the challenges and opportunities that it faces when it comes to energy and the climate. Let’s let’s start with the extreme drought that has taken place in the region in recent years. Tell us what’s happening there.

Tracey LeBeau [00:13:23] Well, for the region, drought and in simplest form has been affecting us with it has amounted to less hydro generation and in some cases the prospect of no generate hydro generation at all. This is placing a lot of pressure on the overall Western energy electricity markets. There’s meaning and tighter supplies to replace the hydro not generated. So it’s causing, you know, a more expensive power as a function of less supply and increasing demand. Diminished hydropower is also hurting our customers and very real ways. We are often the lowest priced Wafaa Hydropower is often the lowest priced generation in our utility customers generation portfolio. So that is having an impact there, having to go out and seek replacement power or asking us to go out and seek replacement power in those cases. Diminished or no hydro is also could potentially affect grid reliability, which is something we’re keeping a very close eye on and concerned about. And we provide regulation and spinning reserves to our balancing authority partners. And we also, you know, could get called on. We have those agreements in place called on of should we ever need black start for some of our nuclear fleet. So there’s a lot of critical ways that this could this is already affecting the grid our customers and could potentially affect reliability in the future.

Bill Loveless [00:15:08] Yes, some of the some of the accounts we read are just appear so worrying. I was just reading a item in The Washington Post by a reporter named Joshua Partlow who wrote that, quote, The dwindling supply of the Colorado River has pushed major reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, down to dangerous levels, where they are at risk of dropping to the point that hydroelectric plants could no longer produce power or water could be blocked by the dams from flowing down the river. I mean, it’s it’s been that bad out there, right?

Tracey LeBeau [00:15:43] It has. I have come to start describing this as a slow moving natural disaster.

Bill Loveless [00:15:48] This reporter went on to quote a fellow out there, maybe it’s someone you know, a fellow named Colby Pellegrino with the Southern Nevada Water Authority who said, quote, The stark reality of our current situation is what we are marking as the driest 23 years of the last 100 years may well be the wettest 23 years of the next 100. It was a while when I read it, too. But, you know, that’s the West, as it seems, has been getting a break to some extent regarding the drought, as mountain ranges are covered with deep snow and water, reservoirs in many areas are filling up. Following a series of these atmospheric rivers that have brought record rain and snowfall to many parts of the region. But how much of a break is that? Is one good water year enough to fill Lake Mead and fill Lake Powell?

Tracey LeBeau [00:16:37] No, unfortunately, the short answer is no. And we are we are in the middle. We’re still in the middle of snow, you know, winter in a lot of us, particularly in our western Slope, which feeds into the Colorado River basin. So, you know, yes, we’ve been seeing increased, you know, increased snowpack, which is fantastic. We are also seeing a pain in our northern California region. We’ve been dealing with the atmospheric river events throughout the winter. So that has definitely helped, particularly Shasta and some of the other dams up there. But but they are less affected by snowpack, whereas our Colorado River Basin projects are very much affected by snowpack.

Bill Loveless [00:17:26] What what steps are take are being taken to to allocate access to to the Colorado River, to, I guess in particular to the Colorado River. Right. But perhaps other waterways. So that to help assure provide some assurance that there will be adequate levels for water supplies for hydropower.

Tracey LeBeau [00:17:47] Well, our our our generating agency partners are, you know, in heavy discussions with the states, the affected states. I know they’re looking at, you know, releasing further upstream to shore up the reservoir levels downstream. So I think that’s it’s been they’re they’re attacking this on several different levels. I think for one one other thing I wanted to note was we were talking a lot about the Colorado River Basin, which is critical, but we also have some form of drought or the prospect of drought in all of our all of our 15 state territory.

Bill Loveless [00:18:31] Yeah.

Tracey LeBeau [00:18:32] So we’re looking at this from our, you know, from the Great Plains through the Rockies, down through the desert southwest and in California.

Bill Loveless [00:18:41] So how do you manage the grid in face of those challenges?

Tracey LeBeau [00:18:45] Well, you know, part of it, you know, we’re we’re we’re attacking this, too, on several different levels. You know, we’re looking possibly at, you know, becoming greater participants in more in markets and organized markets and hopefully to, you know, to be able to pull in energy from other territories, from other geographical regions, too, and have those options available to us. Last year, we entered all of our except for one for our desert southwest region. All of our entire enterprise entered into energy and balance markets last year, and that’s been going quite well for us. And our desert Southwest is actually entering the California Independent System Operators Energy Imbalance market in about two weeks. And so that’s we are we are approaching this on several different levels. And, you know, I think we’re also, you know, looking like every our our customers are really looking at, you know, are there opportunities for them to either build replacement generation or partner with each other to build it or invest in new generation throughout the footprint? So those are where we’re trying to there’s kind of a short term aspect to this and a longer term planning aspect to this. One of the things that we were able to do this year, this past year, was actually just in the last four or five months was to start convening. And we really focused on the Colorado River basin because it does seem just so acute. We started convening our customers to start asking the questions of, you know, once we put some special rates in place to kind of get us over and to kind of triage and get us over the next little while. But if this drought, you know, maintains the severity for a very long periods of time where we see it greatly, we continue to see greatly diminished hydro or no hydro in some cases. You know, I had to ask the question of our customers, what do you want us to do with the transmission system that you haven’t invested in for decades? What is your expectations of us if that were to occur, if that were to occur, and how do we pay for it?

Bill Loveless [00:21:19] Yeah, And what kind of feedback are you getting and from whom are you hearing?

Tracey LeBeau [00:21:23] Well, we’ve been convening our customers, our customers that are affected by the Colorado River Basin, particularly our Colorado River storage project. And there’s a lot of overlap with some of our customers with our Arizona projects, Hoover and Parker, Davis and. Other. So it’s been primarily the southern Colorado and then also are Arizona and Southern California customers. We very intentionally reach across a broad scope of our customer base. We invited everybody affected, but we intentionally really wanted to make sure we heard from from the the diversity of our customers, not just the loudest voice in the room. And we held those. We held in-person meetings with them and a virtual one as well. So there’s some consensus areas that have emerged, and we’re still working through some of the feedback that we’ve been given. I think we’ve had we have summaries of the dialog on our website now, but some of those quick consensus areas was, yes, we do want you to continue to maintain that the valuable transmission systems that they’re looking at, opportunities they want to have start having some discussions about if they do need to invest in or partner with each other to develop alternative generation or supplemental generation. Looking at our our footprint, how to optimize our footprint, our transmission footprint to do that in partnership with them. There is also, you know, something which I referred to a little bit earlier with you, and this really is a slow moving natural disaster. And when, you know, we get pulled into mutual aid situations or other natural disasters, there’s often, you know, the discussion of unity, of effort, unity of message. And that is something that we are kind of coalescing around as well. Our customers and we we want to make sure that we’re on that same page and consistently messaging out the same thing, amplifying each other’s voice.

Bill Loveless [00:23:39] Right. Right. And you talk about optimizing transmission transmission. Building new transmission is certainly very difficult, although, you know, it’s beginning to long distance lines and projects are taking shape in some places across the country. We just had Michael Skelly, you know, a pioneer in long distance transmission on the show to discuss that. But is it is it any easier for a government agency like yours to become involved in in transmission projects, either to build them or to collaborate with somebody else on them?

Tracey LeBeau [00:24:15] In some cases, I think so, and probably not for the reasons he might might naturally spring to mind. So we’re coming at this from several different, several different approaches. So kind of back to the beginning of our conversation, our systems were built out for the purpose to deliver hydro. So that that’s just an interesting dynamic because it wasn’t built, it wasn’t built out to optimize, you know, the grid per se. And and a lot of it was built, you know, 50, 60, 70 years ago. So we are kind of at that point in time where we’ve got systems that I wouldn’t say they’re not at end of life, but they certainly could use a rebuild. And particularly in this day and age of the need for climate resiliency. So there’s some opportunities that we have. And I’ll give you an example. Our Parker Davis transmission system in Arizona is over 50 years old now. We’re maintaining and operating it just fine, but it could definitely use a rebuild. Now we are part we last summer we announced a partnership, I think as an innovative partnership with Tucson Electric to rebuild a portion, a good portion of that system in Arizona. I think it’s a great public private partnership structure where, you know, they can string a circuit. We get a rebuilt circuit, and it’s ends up being a win win. They can rate base theirs and our customers get, you know, a updated system.

Bill Loveless [00:25:55] Yeah. Do you think there are more opportunities to do that sort of collaboration with utility investor owned utility companies throughout the West?

Tracey LeBeau [00:26:03] I do. I do. And that’s something when we knew that there was that that was a prospect and that we knew once the infrastructure, we didn’t know what the infrastructure bills were going to look like. But knowing that those were possible, we started looking throughout our entire footprint. And I asked our wonderful, smart planners, you know, look throughout our footprint and let’s start identifying opportunities that would address, one, congestion and to. Resiliency your.

Bill Loveless [00:26:42] Needs? And are you finding other ones in specific ones in addition to what you just described in Arizona?

Tracey LeBeau [00:26:49] Yes. I mean, there’s still a portion of our Parker Davis system that does need to get rebuilt. We have partnered. We did. We actually this I think this is one of the good news stories, and particularly in like our involvement with permitting and with with the projects we did permit the South Lyon project that goes from eastern New Mexico into Arizona. And that is a that was actually a permitting project that I’d like to joke around about. Nobody’s ever heard too much about because it went very smoothly. Sometimes we don’t hear about those.

Bill Loveless [00:27:29] Some of that happened.

Tracey LeBeau [00:27:31] I think, you know, and that’s kind of back to my my original my original statement when he asked the question, you know, our presence in these communities has been there for, you know, decades and decades and decades. We know the landowners. We know our state counterparts. We work with them all the time, particularly on operation and maintenance. Now we know our BLM’s state counterparts. And so those deep relationships, both in the communities with the communities that we serve and live in and with our sister agencies often times really helps. At the end of the day when it comes to permit the federal permitting side of it, but also to the local. I mean, because a lot of these projects now have to go through state, you know, site line siting committees or similar. And then there’s also and then on top of it, there’s local permitting activities that they need to go through and their familiarity with WAPA and what we do and how we do it usually helps.

Bill Loveless [00:28:39] So so OP, it really is in a position, it seems, from what you’re saying, to play an even bigger role than it has in the past in helping to coordinate and the steps that are necessary to provide reliable sources of electricity and sources of electricity that also respond to concerns over climate change.

Tracey LeBeau [00:29:01] Yes, I think there’s three ways that we can, you know, play in this area. One is and the most important I would say is really look to our customers who have their own systems and who we have, you know, partnered with over the course of decades where those opportunities that they’re seeing that we might be able to partner with and help in some manner. Then there’s we’ve got, as I mentioned, the Tucson Electric Partnership. But, you know, we do have a really great legacy of public private partnerships this year, believe it or not, as the 20th anniversary of our Path 15 project in California. What is that? And that is a project, a 500 KV project that we had the authority to do through statute. And we went ahead and did it, but we did it in conjunction with a private investor. So that was a really nice public private back at over 20 years ago that was really geared towards connecting Northern California to Southern California through an incredibly congested area that was identified by the national the then National Doe’s National Congestion Study. So we were directed WAPA was directed at the time to go out and find a partner to finance it, and we did and were able to build it. We still own and operate it, although the it is within the California ISO and we still, like I said, we still operate and maintain it with our partner, Duke ATC.

Bill Loveless [00:30:43] Yeah, right. Interesting. Could there be more projects like of that that the project you just described in California where the in ones where maybe Washington helps by designating a specific need a specific corridor that where where a federal agency like WAPA could participate there.

Tracey LeBeau [00:31:03] Could be there could be you know that study is now out for comment. So we’re making our way through through that.

Bill Loveless [00:31:12] It’s a it’s a it’s a recent study from the Department of Energy.

Tracey LeBeau [00:31:14] It is? Mm hmm.

Bill Loveless [00:31:16] What does it call it?

Tracey LeBeau [00:31:18] I think it’s called the Dewey National Transmission Study. It used to be called the National Congestion Study, but I think they changed the name. And I think that was just released in the last two or three weeks.

Bill Loveless [00:31:28] Okay. This one, it’s one to watch for.

Tracey LeBeau [00:31:30] It’s definitely one to watch for. It’s still in a still in process. But I think there could be some really interesting opportunities that just maybe, you know, Reconfirm what? Folks know or or think is the case. So that could point us in some certain directions. In a we also have our own Congress provided WaPo with a borrowing authority which essentially started a infrastructure financing fund for new transmission or and or related facilities, which could be utility scale storage. It is a DEP. You know, it’s a loan program actually, you know, capital, not a loan guarantee program. And, you know, and it’s specifically authorized to and directed to facilitate the delivery of renewable energy throughout our footprint.

Bill Loveless [00:32:26] I’m glad you brought that up, because there’s been, you know, a lot of development taking place in the West when it comes to renewable energy. Some of the expansive systems we’ve seen in California and even on federal lands in the West, something the government’s been encouraging as a matter of policy. What what how does that factor into Harper’s activities, The support of this large scale renewable renewables that have the potential to grow that much more in the years ahead?

Tracey LeBeau [00:32:53] Well, I think we’re still trying to figure that out. We do have, I think one of the also one of the good news stories is, you know, over the past ten years, that program and WAPA have permitted a lot of transmission projects, large transmission projects that are now finally seeing commercial offtake. It really solidify. And so what was permitted and I’m kind of sitting on those permits for a little while now, they’ve got, you know, line of sight on commercial commitments on the offtake side. Those are now moving forward. Examples are transverse express. There is you know, we we worked with Sanzia for quite a while. We permitted South Line and there are others out there that we are have been involved in and continue to be involved in. And there are new projects coming in the door, knocking on our door, kind of seeking that partnership on the permitting side as also as a pathway to the debt financing. And I think, you know, we we we will land at cost. And so really are and I think the value of us at the table on the financing side is that we are look to as smart money because we know how to permit site construct own and operate transmission and that is what we do. Other other lenders, other investors really see us as a valuable partner to bring in to finance these types of projects. I think our sweet spot is preconstruction and construction, where a lot of the risk is because we understand those things, but we’ll also look at long term financing as well.

Bill Loveless [00:34:44] And it’s interesting, I’m not sure many I’m sure the people that are thinking about building those lines and in the West are obviously aware of this. But I’m not sure many other people realize that there’s a financing aspect to the Western area power administration.

Tracey LeBeau [00:34:57] Yes, we’ve been a pretty quiet, pretty quiet program for a little while. But I was originally came here in 2014, as you noted, and in early during 2015, we were able to partner with a great many of our customers who stood behind me and committed and committed to a line. So we were able to finance that line and went from electrical District four to the Palo Verde hub, which is a major California delivery hub. We built that line in 2015 and financed it with in conjunction with our customers through the middle of Arizona solar rich Arizona. And I will say once we did that, knowing that there was going to be a future, continued future interest in growth in the Phenix metro area, we anticipated that it could possibly be expanded and there’s already plans to expand it.

Bill Loveless [00:36:00] Well, Tracy, there’s so much talk in the country right now how difficult it is to build new transmission. But having this conversation with you today, I’m hearing that, you know, it’s it’s challenging, but we’re building new transmission out in the west.

Tracey LeBeau [00:36:14] We are. We are. And I think and again, I think the good news is there’s a lot of great work, foundational work has been done over the last decade on on this. And I think a lot of one of the other areas that we’re exploring is there are authorities that we’ve had on the books for a very long time, projects that had not been built in the past for whatever reason that now, you know, kind of dusting some of those authorities off some of. There’s opportunities off and look and we’ve got new technology, expanded markets and new needs. And I think Michael Scully talked about it wonderfully, about the need to be able to connect geographically diverse and generation, get some generation diversity onto our system. I think there are some great opportunities to do that. We’re exploring those as well.

Bill Loveless [00:37:03] Yeah, you’ll have offshore wind power at some point now that leases have been let off off the West Coast. Still a new frontier there for that will require new transmission as well. So, you know, there’s there’s a lot of opportunity. There’s been some progress here. From your perspective, what what can go wrong?

Tracey LeBeau [00:37:28] Well, you know, it’s always tricky. It’s always tricky. The kind of the feet on the ground aspect of these projects. And that’s something that I’ve been talking about publicly for the last year or two is and this is coming from a federal agency perspective. There’s a couple of different things I worry about. One is, you know, just with the push of infrastructure, just the availability of things like engineering, design and construction firms to help us, we’ve got folks, you know, of course, we’ve got folks on, you know, great folks on staff who do that. But just the push of it, I worry a little bit about the availability of all of that, just, you know, that type of high technical need and knowledge out there. I worry about land men. There’s just not a lot of land, man, that got black folks that could go folks and go out and actually talk to landowners and, you know, negotiate rights of entry and then, you know, down the line rights of ways. So those, you know, specialist appraisers and folks that will get in the car and drive, you know, drive out there and meet with landowners. There’s just not a ton of them. And so I just worry about bandwidth with respect to them. I also, frankly, in the West, I have to admit, I worry a little bit about their safety on occasion in some of rural, rural areas who have strong feelings about the federal government. So those are some of the things that A there’s there’s a lot that keeps me up at night, but that’s that’s that’s some of them as well.

Bill Loveless [00:39:17] Yeah. You know, it’s interesting to talk about the role of the federal agency like yours plays big on sort of looking back in history and trying to figure what we’ve learned in the past applies to what’s going on today. And of course, decades and decades ago, we had the federal government step in and big ways, setting up power administrations like yours and Bonneville, for example, and and things like the Tennessee Valley Authority. You know, times have changed, but there’s still a role, it seems, for the government today, perhaps not on the scale that we saw back, you know, in the days when TVA was was authorized and and begun to spread out. But there is some there is some role there today to play.

Tracey LeBeau [00:40:05] I think that’s right. And Michael said he hit on something as well on this issue when you talk to him. And that is, you know, looking at transmission planning, I mean, I know we have a Western interconnection and we’ve got process that we processes that we go through, but markets are in such a flux. So the prospect of in a market kind of stepping in to, you know, standby or backstop new transmission is still in flux. And so those big issues are kind of there step back and look at it from a regional standpoint or, you know, a national standpoint there. That is definitely a role. I feel like, you know, the federal federal government could play.

Bill Loveless [00:40:55] Yeah, Yeah. There’s so much, so much going on. Some pretty big challenges, but a lot that’s happening on the ground and in the various halls there. Tracey LeBeau, thanks for joining us today on Columbia Energy Exchange. I’ve enjoyed the conversation. I’ve learned a lot.

Tracey LeBeau [00:41:11] Thank you. I appreciate it.

Bill Loveless [00:41:16] That’s it for this week’s episode of Colombia Energy Exchange. Thank you again, Tracey LeBeau, and thank you for listening. The show is brought to you by the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. The show is hosted by Jason Bordoff and Bill Loveless. The show is produced by Stephen Lacy and Aaron Hardik from Postscript Media. Additional support from Daniel Prop, Natalie Volk and Q Lee. Sean Marquand is the sound engineer. For more information about the podcast or the Center on Global Energy Policy, visit us online at Energy Policy dot Colombia, Dot edu or follow us on social media at Columbia U. Energy. And you can read a review of the show on Apple or Spotify. You can also let us know what you think by tweeting at us. And if you really like this episode, share it with a friend or a colleague. It helps us reach more listeners like yourself. We’ll see you next week.

Almost 30% of electricity in the western United States comes from hydroelectric dams. But what happens when the water in the rivers dries up?

The Western Area Power Administration – or WAPA – provides electricity to more than 40 million Americans. It relies heavily on the 57 dams in its service territory for supply. 

But  over the past 20 years, the drought ravaging the West has been drying up reservoirs. Even the recent wave of snow and rain that dumped on western states like California won’t be enough to fill them back up.

New transmission projects, which WAPA can help build, could provide more connection from the western power grid to the east. And that would help stabilize the electricity supply.

So, how is WAPA planning to serve its customers in the face of a changing climate? And what role does transmission infrastructure play in meeting their needs? 

This week, host Bill Loveless talks with Tracey LeBeau about how drought has affected WAPA’s operations in the past few years. They also discuss how the power generation will change moving forward and how transmission needs of the West might be met.

Tracey is the administrator and chief executive officer of the Western Area Power Administration. She joined the organization in 2014 as manager of the Transmission Infrastructure Program, where she oversaw WAPA’s $3.2 billion borrowing authority. Tracey has also served as senior vice president at WAPA and was responsible for managing transmission system operations and maintenance.

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