BPA seeks common ground as power demand soars

For more than 80 years, the Bonneville Power Administration has supported local economies and regional growth by providing affordable, clean energy to consumer-owned utilities such as Benton Public Utility District, Benton Rural Electric Association, the city of Richland, Franklin PUD and Columbia REA.

Today, BPA is taking steps to meet the Tri-Cities’ growing needs as the area expands, attracts new businesses and remains a hub for outdoor recreation.

We market power from 31 federal dams and one nuclear plant through a transmission system covering 15,000 circuit miles and extending west to east from the Pacific Ocean to the Continental Divide and north to south from Canada to just beyond the southern borders of Oregon and Idaho.

Our electric grid connects the Northwest with Canada and California, playing a critical role in an integrated energy landscape throughout the West.

Growth in the Tri-City area and climate change impacts have contributed to mounting transmission system constraints.

The heat dome event in June 2021 saw temperatures in the Tri-Cities rise above 115 degrees. The historic high temperatures required BPA to take extraordinary measures to deal with transmission congestion and keep the lights on. This included partnering with a local fire department to hose down transformers, keeping them cool and in service.

If unaddressed, these bottlenecks could lead to blackouts.

That’s why BPA is proposing to construct or expand four transmission lines to increase BPA’s ability to deliver electricity to the area by 66%, to 1,750 megawatts.

This work will reinforce existing substations and lines, and increase the physical and cybersecurity of BPA’s operations in the area.

We are in the early stages of introducing these projects to residents and others who may be impacted. BPA is committed to working together to ensure reliable electrical service for decades to come.

BPA is proud to provide low-cost, mostly carbon-free power to customers that serve retail consumers in the Tri-Cities.

In addition to hydropower, we market electricity from the Columbia Generating Station in Richland, which provides more than 1,150 MW of carbon-free electricity.

For the past decade, Energy Northwest, which owns and operates the nuclear plant, has helped BPA manage operations when high spring runoff and spikes in wind energy output creates too much energy – referred to as oversupply – by ramping down to its minimum generating amount.

Energy Northwest also has worked with BPA to control costs over the past several years, which has helped us keep rates flat, and in some cases, reduce power rates.

BPA continues to deliver value to the region by marketing hydropower generated by the federal dams operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation.

Low-cost hydro power produced by federal dams serves as an economic engine of the region and has supported the growth and prosperity of the Tri-Cities area. It is also a key element in mitigating the impacts of climate change, which presents a growing threat to the region and the world.

As system operations become more sophisticated and coordination across the west expands, we hope to extend and enhance the system’s value by participating in new markets.

In early 2022, BPA began participating in the Western Energy Imbalance Market, or EIM.

The EIM is a voluntary market, offering opportunities for more efficient system operations and an additional source of revenue which supports keeping power rates low. BPA also is working to shape emerging day-ahead markets that could further expand our ability to capture added value and efficiencies in supplying power to our customers.

Our goal is to actively influence market formation so the system provides value for decades to come.

Another way BPA extends the value of the power system is through energy efficiency measures that create energy savings for BPA and our customers. Here are some local examples:

  • BPA and Benton REA worked with JK Family Dairy, a fourth-generation family farm, to replace fixed-speed circulating fans with controlled fan motors. This reduced fan energy use by 50% while keeping cows comfortable and saving the farm more than $2,000 annually.
  • BPA partnered with the city of Richland to make lighting, heating, air conditioning and window and door improvements at Legacy Jiu-Jitsu Academy, reducing energy use by 10,800 kilowatt-hours and saving its owners approximately $800 annually.
  • The city of Kennewick saved 1.1 million kWh by participating with BPA and Benton PUD in a Wastewater Energy Coaching initiative that implemented low- and no-cost improvements to plant operations.
  • Franklin PUD and BPA helped a cold storage facility implement seven new construction measures, reducing first-year energy use by over 2.1 million kWh.

These are just a few highlights demonstrating how energy efficiency is a cost-effective way to stretch the value of the federal Columbia River Power System, avoiding costly investments in new energy generating resources.

BPA and its federal partners continue to work with the state of Washington, Central Washington Tribes and others to demonstrate our commitment to mitigating the impacts from the development and operation of the congressionally-authorized Federal Columbia River Power System on fish and wildlife in the region.

Mitigation efforts include making fish passage improvements at the dams to increase survival, obtaining land to help wildlife that lost critical habitat to federal dam construction and inundation and working with our tribal, state and other partners in Columbia River tributaries to improve conditions for salmon, steelhead and other species across the Columbia Basin.

BPA has made tremendous progress toward extending the Columbia River Fish Accords for another three years. These agreements with tribes and states, which originated in 2008, have been incredibly effective for implementing crucial and complex fish and wildlife mitigation projects, while also providing a framework for the parties to improve relationships and innovate novel approaches to fish and wildlife conservation.

Amid all of this, we continue to discuss a compromise for system operations that helps salmon, steelhead, bull trout and other native species while supporting the region’s economy. Finding common ground among diverse interests is paramount, so we can honor our commitments and carve a path to the region’s clean energy future.

John Hairston is administrator and CEO for Bonneville Power Administration.

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