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New BPA Transmission Line to Relieve Congestion, Aid Fish

by CBB Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin - January 24, 2003

A new transmission line approved for construction by the Bonneville Power Administration this week will provide relief to the agency's often congested transmission lines between Montana and Washington, but it also could provide benefits for fish during spring and summer.

The 500 kilovolt power line will span the 84 miles between the agency's Bell Substation near Spokane and Grand Coulee Dam. The transmission path in that area has become increasingly crowded since the mid-1990s, according to BPA, and the new line will beef up its transmission system and help free up an electric pipeline that is often so congested that not all power produced in Montana can reach the population centers in Oregon and Washington.

When transmission paths are so congested that transmission must be curtailed, generators east of Spokane, such as at Hungry Horse and Libby dams, along with Montana's coalstrip power plants, must curtail some generation, according to Mark Korsness, BPA's project manager. At certain times of year, curtailments could mean that the dams would have to spill water.

"Fishwise, this project allows more flexibility in the hydro system so we don't have to spill when we don't want to," Korsness said. Unwanted spill often results in higher than allowed total dissolved gas, he said.

He added that while fish are not the reason BPA is building the Bell-Coulee 500 kV transmission line, the transmission congestion that exists in the West of Hatwai area, the transmission path between eastern Washington near Spokane and Idaho and Montana, does take flexibility away from dam operations in Montana.

"This project is critical to maintaining the quality of electrical service in the region," said Korsness. "Our ability to fulfill our supply obligations to our customers and to deliver power exactly where it's needed will markedly improve once this line is completed."

Construction of the $152 million project begins in February and the line will be energized in November 2004. BPA said the costs will be paid through sales of transmission services.

This is the first large transmission infrastructure project approved by BPA under its proposed transmission infrastructure program. Many of those projects are designed to relieve congestion. NOAA Fisheries biological opinion also calls for transmission improvements that address another area where BPA's transmission system is congested in the John Day area. Transmission projects addressing that congested area is on BPA's infrastructure program list, but have yet to get the go ahead.

Related Sites:
Bonneville Power Administration:
BPA decision document:

CBB Staff
New BPA Transmission Line to Relieve Congestion, Aid Fish
Columbia Basin Bulletin, January 24, 2003

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