Transformational practices

The Bonneville Power Administration first announced the I-5 Corridor Reinforcement Project in 2009. The proposed 80-mile, 500-kilovolt transmission line would have stretched from Castle Rock, Washington, to Troutdale, Oregon. But in May, BPA Administrator Elliot Mainzer announced that the federal power marketing administration would not be pursuing the project.

Mainzer said the decision "caps a comprehensive public process and reflects BPA's commitment to taking a more flexible, scalable, and economically and operationally efficient approach to managing its transmission system."

The project sought to address a reliability issue along a transmission corridor in southwest Washington and northwest Oregon that could lead to power outages. Following a final environmental impact statement that was released in February 2016, Mainzer promised the region that BPA would conduct additional analyses. BPA began an extensive review of financial forecasts, planning assumptions, and commercial practices. It combined those results with findings of regional utilities and independent industry experts to address the underlying issue - managing congestion along the Interstate 5 corridor while maintaining the potential for economic growth.

"Given the extensive work we've done in the past 15 months with regional partners and others, we are now confident that we can continue to meet the demands on the grid without building this 80-mile line in southwest Washington," Mainzer said. "We will always make safe and reliable transmission service a priority. We also recognize a growing need to be flexible and agile in our business practices to create the greatest value to electricity ratepayers in the Northwest."

The decision marks a transformation in BPA's practices, Mainzer said. "We are transforming how we plan for and manage our transmission system and commercial business practices regionwide."

For example, in reviewing its project assumptions with regional utilities, BPA found that it used a conservative approach to risk that went beyond industry standards.

"This was a huge undertaking for BPA with implications for utilities throughout the Northwest," said Scott Corwin, executive director of the Public Power Council. "We appreciate that BPA dug in and conducted a thorough review of cost-effective solutions. We look forward to working with Bonneville to ensure that new solutions meet BPA's obligations to reliably deliver electricity to its core customers."

BPA is identifying upgrades to existing transmission infrastructure and new business and commercial practices that will preserve the value of the system and meet customer demands. The administration also began implementing a two-year pilot project that will provide targeted transmission congestion relief in the greater Portland-Vancouver area during peak periods of electric use in the summer. The pilot project should result in over 100 megawatts of flow relief along the most congested portion of the transmission corridor for four-hour blocks, according to BPA.

"This 'nonwires' pilot is just one of many ideas BPA is initiating as part of its transformational approach to meeting customer needs," Mainzer said.