Last week, members of many local energy co-ops responded with alarm to a plan by U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu to upgrade transmission lines in the western section of the nations power grid.

The upgrades could cost billions of dollars and most of the upgrade cost is likely to fall on local energy consumers. Some say that local power bills could double or even triple to pay for the new system.

Pacific Northwest Generation Co-op Board Chair Ray Ellis says "I don't want to sound negative on everything, but I don't see any benefit for those in Western or Eastern Montana. This is certainly a benefit that's supposed to be for elsewhere." In this case, "elsewhere" is most likely the weaker grid sections in the nation's more urban centers along the west coast.

If the transmission lines are upgraded, it would allow power from western and eastern Montana to be shifted more speedily to other markets when brownouts occur and it would also allow for more wind farms and other energy sources to contribute to a grid that is currently at full capacity. Unless locals happen to own those new wind farms and power supply stations though, the benefits are going to be exported to the weaker parts of the grid.

As a net exporter of energy Montana will see marginal benefits in having the ability to make quicker power shifts, but other states will now have access to more power. So far, no funding plan has been declared that would result in the likely beneficiaries paying for the system upgrades.  Around 165 political Representatives and Senators have signed a letter asking for Chu to reconsider the upgrade plans.

Ray Ellis explains the power grids, transmission lines, and how Montanans could end up shouldering the cost of new improvements to the grid: