BPA to spend $2 billion on upgrades to power lines, dams

By Kevin McCullen, Herald staff writerJune 16, 2010 

PATERSON -- The Bonneville Power Administration plans to invest up to $2 billion to build or upgrade power transmission lines and make improvements at dams to modernize the Northwest power system and create jobs, officials said Tuesday.

Daniel Poneman, deputy secretary of the Department of Energy, and BPA Administrator Steve Wright announced the projects during a visit to a site near the Columbia River west of Paterson where crews are building the 79-mile, 500-kilovolt McNary-John Day transmission line.

The projects, to be financed with federal stimulus money BPA received last year, are "absolutely critical in building a new energy economy," Poneman said.

More than $1 billion alone is to be spent on building or replacing major transmission lines, including the McNary-John Day line. That line is being constructed largely to handle transmission of electricity generated by wind turbines in the region, Wright said.

When finished in early 2012, the McNary-John Day line will carry up to 495 megawatts of wind energy, according to BPA. One megawatt is enough to supply power to 1,000 homes.

Other transmission line projects include the proposed 500-kilovolt Central Ferry-Lower Monumental line in Garfield, Columbia and Walla Walla counties; a proposed 500-kilovolt line and substation between Wasco County, Ore., and Klickitat County; and the proposed replacement of nearly 70 miles of line along the Interstate 5 corridor from Castle Rock to Troutdale, according to BPA.

BPA also plans another $585 million in upgrades and replacements of its existing transmission system, including about 20 miles of a 230-kilovolt line west of the Tri-Cities between Vantage and Midway.

Another $250 million is to be spent for upgrades to the hydro system at five dams, including Grand Coulee and Chandler in Washington, said officials of the not-for-profit federal electric utility.

In addition to the energy projects, $50 million will be spent at the Walla Walla, Chief Joseph and Klickitat hatcheries to increase the number and diversity of chinook salmon and steelhead in the Columbia Basin, BPA said.

And BPA will continue to look at other energy projects as part of its commitment to "create long-term value for Northwest ratepayers," Wright said.

The projects are expected to employ hundreds of workers, although officials said they had no exact estimate. There are about 80 workers involved in construction of the McNary-John Day line, Wright said, and there is a ripple effect with Northwest manufacturing companies supplying the materials.

For example, conductors on the McNary-John Day line were supplied by a Roseburg, Ore., company under a $10 million contract, Wright said.

"We've viewed our role (at DOE) as trying to help stimulate the economy in any way we can," Poneman said.

A modernized Northwest power system will continue to rely on electricity created from the region's hydroelectric dams, Poneman said, as well as nuclear, wind, geothermal and other sources.

In fact, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana have a combined potential electric generation from wind, solar and geothermal sources of 1.494 million megawatt hours. That's equivalent to about 42 percent of the entire electricity usage of the United States in 2003, according to the Renewable Northwest Project, a coalition of energy companies and public-interest corporations.

Wind particularly will continue to play an expanding role in the Northwest's energy future, Poneman and Wright said. About 3,000 megawatts of wind-generated energy now is in the BPA system, a figure projected to grow to 6,000 megawatts by 2013.

Poneman said the Northwest is unique because it can tap multiple natural sources to create "energy that is carbon-free."

-- Kevin McCullen: 582-1535; kmccullen@tricityherald.com

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