Grid Modernization

BPA project highlights flexible approach to transmission

The Bonneville Power Administration and Lower Valley Energy, a cooperative, have teamed up to build a transmission line in southeastern Idaho.

The roughly $64 million Hooper Springs project is an example of BPA’s flexible approach to meeting the transmission needs of its customers, according to Kevin Wingert, a BPA spokesman.

The line was needed to meet reliability concerns in the area and after issuing a preliminary environmental assessment for the project in 2009, BPA was prepared to start building the project in 2017.

However, Wyoming-based Lower Valley Energy offered to build the line, using easements the federal power marketer had already acquired. The approach took advantage of the utility’s local expertise to build the project more efficiently, according to BPA.

By letting Lower Valley Energy build and own the line, BPA avoided drawing on its U.S. Treasury borrowing authority, preserving that funding for other projects, according to the federal power marketer. Lower Valley Energy is leasing transmission capacity back to BPA and is responsible for the project’s maintenance costs.

The project includes a new substation, a 24-mile, double-circuit 115-kilovolt transmission line between the substation and a BPA connection facility with Lower Valley Energy's existing transmission system. A ribbon cutting for the project was held in October.

The project is part of BPA’s broader effort to rethink the way it manages its transmission system, according to Wingert.

“We’ve done a lot of looking at alternatives to doing a standard physical build of new transmission,” Wingert said. “We’re looking for the right investment, at the right time, at the right size.”

The turning point in the BPA’s approach came with the I-5 project between Oregon and Washington, according to Wingert.

Since 2009, BPA had been studying the I-5 Corridor Reinforcement project that would run about 80 miles between a new substation near Castle Rock, Washington, to a new substation near Troutdale, Oregon.

BPA was considering the roughly $810 million project to relieve a major summertime bottleneck in the Northwest that occurs on the South of Allston path, which delivers power from generating sources in Washington into Portland and areas south. BPA was concerned that the bottleneck could lead to brownouts or blackouts in the 2021 timeframe.

After BPA issued a final environmental impact statement for the project in early 2016, BPA Administrator Elliot Mainzer directed his staff to explore alternative approaches to the project.

Instead of building the power line, the BPA in May 2017 decided to launch a non-wires pilot program to provide congestion relief on the South of Allston path during certain hours by dispatching generation to encourage power transfers on other paths.

The federal power marketer also increased its reliance on advanced technology, robust regional planning, industry standard commercial practices and coordinated system operations.

BPA is also moving towards joining the Western Energy Imbalance Market, Wingert noted.