Non-Wires Alternatives Embraced by BPA as it Abandons 80-mile Transmission Line Project

May 22, 2017
The Bonneville Power Administration plans to pursue non-wires alternatives instead of an 80-mile transmission line, signaling a business shift toward targeted solutions over large centralized infrastructure.

The Bonneville Power Administration plans to pursue non-wires alternatives instead of an 80-mile transmission line, signaling a business shift toward targeted solutions over large centralized infrastructure.

“The outcome is much bigger than a decision to build or not build this line: We are transforming how we plan for and manage our transmission system and commercial business practices regionwide,” said Elliot Mainzer, BPA administrator, in announcing cancellation of the I-5 Corridor Reinforcement Project.

Non-wires alternatives solve congestion problems with targeted and often local energy solutions, like microgrids and virtual power plants, using advanced software intelligence with distributed generation, energy storage, demand response, and other forms of alternative energy.

Large transmission projects have faced fervent opposition by nearby property owners and activists in recent years; non-wires alternatives offer a less visually obtrusive way to maintain electric reliability.

BPA said that the decision reflects its commitment to a new “more flexible, scalable, and economically and operationally efficient approach to managing reliability.”

Proposed in 2009, the 500-kV line would have run from Castle Rock, Washington, to Troutdale, Oregon. Facing public opposition and rising costs, BPA analyzed the project again, looking at its economics, planning assumptions and commercial practices, along with findings of regional utilities and independent industry experts.

Now, instead of building the transmission line, the federal power agency plans to pursue a two-year, non-wires alternative pilot to relieve congestion in the greater Portland-Vancouver area during summer peaks. BPA hopes to achieve 100 MW of flow relief along the most congested portion of the transmission corridor for four-hour blocks.

BPA also will pursue congestion relief by identifying upgrades to existing transmission infrastructure and updating business and commercial practices.

The decision to use non-wires alternatives won praise from Fred Heutte, senior policy associate for the NW Energy Coalition.

“After looking carefully at all the options, it turns out that a combination of methods relying on clean energy and optimizing power plant generation is a better and less costly choice.  The new power line would have cost over a billion dollars, putting a major burden on communities and property owners in southwest Washington and electric bill payers across the Northwest,” he said.

BPA plans to convene a technical conference within a month to discuss its new approach to managing grid congestion.

A non-profit agency, BPA provides about 28 percent of the electric power used in the Northwest, most of it from hydroelectricity.  BPA’s territory includes Idaho, Oregon, Washington, western Montana and small parts of eastern Montana, California, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.

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About the Author

Elisa Wood | Editor-in-Chief

Elisa Wood is an award-winning writer and editor who specializes in the energy industry. She is chief editor and co-founder of Microgrid Knowledge and serves as co-host of the publication’s popular conference series. She also co-founded, where she continues to lead a team of energy writers who produce content for energy companies and advocacy organizations.

She has been writing about energy for more than two decades and is published widely. Her work can be found in prominent energy business journals as well as mainstream publications. She has been quoted by NPR, the Wall Street Journal and other notable media outlets.

“For an especially readable voice in the industry, the most consistent interpreter across these years has been the energy journalist Elisa Wood, whose Microgrid Knowledge (and conference) has aggregated more stories better than any other feed of its time,” wrote Malcolm McCullough, in the book, Downtime on the Microgrid, published by MIT Press in 2020.

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