PATERSON -- A new high-voltage transmission line along the Columbia River went into full service Friday -- just ask any child in Paterson.
Completion of the project was celebrated by the Bonneville Power Administration at Paterson School, where children have tracked the project's progress since the BPA leased school land next to the playground for the project's main yard.
The new 500-kilovolt power line starts at the McNary Substation in Umatilla, crossing the Columbia River just north of there. It travels west along the Columbia River for about 70 miles, passing near Paterson School, and then crosses the Columbia River back into Oregon at the John Day Dam, ending at the John Day Substation.
The line was planned in 2002 but delayed until 2009 in part because of the uncertainties about the viability of proposed generation projects that had planned to use the line.
But the project was revived by 2009 to get power from new wind farms in Eastern Washington and Oregon on the grid.
That's the primary usage, but it also will serve the McNary and Ice Harbor dams' hydropower operations, and provide more reliability to the Tri-Cities area, said Steve Wright, BPA administrator.
The project was paid for with borrowing authority in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, with money to be repaid by ratepayers. Originally, the project was estimated to cost more than $300 million, but it came in under $200 million, Wright said.
He credited good luck -- commodity prices were low in the economic downturn -- and hard work.
Engineers came up with a redesign for the transmission towers that required a third less steel, which saved $11 million in materials and $30 million in labor, said Larry Bekkedahl, BPA vice president of engineering and technical services. The design also is expected to be used on future projects.
Construction was completed 10 months ahead of schedule, with about 150 workers on the project.
BPA leased about 10 acres of school land for the project, paying the school $1,000 a month for three years. That helped to keep school programs operating as state money was cut, said Superintendent Peggy Douglas.
School children watched the construction, and got a visit by a helicopter pilot who landed and answered questions when work was being done to string the wire near the school, she said.
They also will have better internet service at the school because of the new transmission line. A fiber optics line for broadband service is strung above the power lines to provide better internet service to south Benton County, said Rick Dunn, director of engineering for the Benton PUD.