BPA energizes new 500-kV line 10 months ahead of schedule

The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) has completed a new 500-kV line that runs 79 miles along the Columbia River from McNary Dam to John Day Dam 10 months ahead of schedule.

The line was completed $140m under its original $340m budget, a BPA spokesperson told TransmissionHub on Feb. 27.

“There’s an assumption that the public sector can’t do things well, and this is an example that it can,” BPA administrator Steven Wright said Feb. 24 during a celebration marking the completion in the town of Patterson, Wash., about 140 miles east of Portland, Ore. “It will be a significant benefit for ratepayers.”

Wright credited low commodity prices due to the economic downturn, and hard work for the accelerated construction timeline and cost savings. Engineers redesigned the transmission towers to use one-third less steel, saving a combined  $41m in materials and labor. BPA expects to use the design on future projects.

The line was originally planned in 2002 but put on hold, in part because of uncertainties about the viability of proposed wind generation projects that had planned to use the line. The line was revived by 2009 and completed in late 2011, ahead of schedule and under budget.

The line will primarily transmit power from new wind farms in eastern Washington and Oregon, but will also serve the McNary and Ice Harbor dams’ hydropower operations. The line will also provide more reliability to the Tri-Cities area in Washington.

On Feb. 24, BPA made available an additional 495 MW of capacity on the new line, which it expects to be used to transmit wind energy in the region. The line is one of several planned in Washington and Oregon to get power from wind turbines east of the Cascades to urban centers on the west side.

The line was paid for with borrowing authority in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, with money to be repaid by ratepayers.