The I-5 Corridor Transmission Project Decision

More tools, better planning, and a modern Western grid

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On May 18, 2017, the Bonneville Power Administration decided not to build a proposed 80-mile transmission line in the I-5 corridor. This project, first announced in 2009, was studied by the agency for almost a decade. The estimated cost to build the line was around $722 million.

Large transmission projects are expensive and notoriously difficult to build. They often face opposition by homeowners living near the proposed transmission towers and environmental considerations can make obtaining permits to route them through public lands challenging.

Long-term transmission planners must balance the reliability of the electricity grid with how those decisions affect regional residents’ electricity bills and their livability concerns. That’s why it’s encouraging to see that non-wires, commercial, and operational options are being explored as part of Bonneville’s transmission planning.

Some will see this decision as a setback for the grid and feel that it is not addressing transmission needs for growing populations and diversifying generating resources in the West. However, I see this as a step forward in expanding the tools that we can use to deliver electricity from the source of generation to residential, commercial, and industrial customers.

I’m honored to have made a small contribution to the extensive analysis on this project. I served as one of five members of an independent review panel funded by Bonneville through ColumbiaGrid. See their August 11, 2017 review.

In my role as the director of power planning for the Council, I’ve seen how the region’s success in achieving energy efficiency has made it possible for us to increase the region’s economic productivity while avoiding the need to build large, expensive power plants.

This strategy of smart growth parallels Bonneville’s decision on investments for the transmission system. Bonneville is taking a step into the future, getting more value out of the existing transmission system by leveraging new technologies and better coordination with its neighbors. In doing so, it’s saving money for the residents and businesses of the Northwest.

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