Declining investment in new transmission facilities has resulted in grid congestion and power outages costing the economy $25 billion to $180 billion annually, according the U.S. Dept. of Energy, Office of Electrical Transmission and Distribution.

For fast-growing states such as California -- where power demand is growing about 4% annually, or double the national average -- the project could mean timely relief. The state was forced to order rolling blackouts during its energy crisis in 2000-01, a move that escalated electricity prices across much of the Western US. California needs an estimated 1,000-Mw of new power capacity annually to keep pace with demand, state officials claim.

The "Frontier Line" could deliver 12,000 Mw of power, or enough electricity for 10 million homes, starting in 2011. It would follow a route that originates in northeastern Wyoming, near the Powder River Basin coal fields, and travels through Idaho and branches in Nevada for southern and northern California. Much of the high-voltage infrastructure could cross federal land or follow existing transmission routes, said Joseph Desmond, California's deputy energy secretary, during a press teleconference call.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn (R), Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. (R) and Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D) signed a memorandum of understanding that will speed governmental and regulatory approvals for new transmission lines and power plants.

The governors will act as surrogate developers in an effort to unlock the Rocky Mountain's vast energy resources, which includes coal and wind, by coaxing investor-owned utilities, independent operators, or industry groups to produce and wheel more power around the West, Desmond said.

The four governors have created a committee to hire consultants, define project scopes, recruit developers, and work-out financing, which is expected to come from the states and matching federal funds. Other states could participate in the future.

our western governors announced plans to build up to $15-billion, 1,700 miles worth of electrical transmission lines on April 4, setting the stage for a more reliable power grid. Electricity consumption in the West has grown 60% over the past 20 years, but the region's transmission system has expanded only 20%.