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Over Avista's Objections, BPA to Proceed with Power Line

by Bert Caldwell
The Spokesman Review
- December 1, 2001

Company says agency's plan will cost twice as much as one Avista proposed

The Bonneville Power Administration will proceed with plans to expand transmission capacity between Spokane and Grand Coulee despite claims by Avista Utilities that there are less expensive ways to eliminate a bottleneck in the area, BPA spokesman Ed Mosey said Friday.

And short-term fixes already in place should see the Northwest through the winter, Mosey said.

Timetables call for new wire between Grand Coulee and the Bell Substation in north Spokane to be in place by 2004. The 80-mile line would increase carrying capacity by about 500 megawatts to 3,500 megawatts.

Officials are reviewing an environmental study prepared for the project in 1991, when construction was put on hold because there was no immediate need for the upgrade.

Also, Bonneville and Avista agreed to more modest improvements in capacity and cooperation in management of their grids around Spokane. That 10-year pact expired Oct. 31.

Avista Utilities President Scott Morris sent a letter to the region's political leaders last week warning that without a new agreement, much of the generating capacity east of Spokane could be isolated during periods of heavy demand.

Closure of two aluminum smelters at Mead and Columbia Falls, Mont., in the past year exacerbated the transmission problem.

Together, the plants soaked up 725 megawatts of power, almost enough to energize 500,000 homes. With the plants off line, the power must be moved farther west.

But the 2,800 megawatts of transmission capacity west of Spokane is fully committed.

Bonneville's solution to the problem could cost $250 million, according to the Avista letter, which adds that Avista's alternative would cost half that.

Mosey said Bonneville estimates the cost of the line to Grand Coulee will cost $110 million. Improvements proposed by Avista at about the same cost will increase capacity to just 3,050 megawatts.

The Western Systems Coordinating Council, charged with assuring the reliability of transmission grids in the western states, has already approved Bonneville's proposal, he said, adding "We think the merits of our proposal will be obvious to everyone."

Mosey said no one has contacted Bonneville about the Avista letter, which was sent to 23 officials, including Deputy Secretary of Energy Francis Blake.

Avista spokesman Hugh Imhof said the company put the transmission issue in play to rally Northwest behind a solution.

And, he said, Avista wants to assure its own transmission lines, with lesser capacity than Bonneville's, are not overloaded if a squeeze develops for power moving through Spokane.

Bert Caldwell
Over Avista's Objections, BPA to Proceed with Power Line
The Spokesman Review December 1, 2001

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