Office of Electricity

BPA, Grid Modernization, and Setting the Nation Up for Success

February 11, 2016

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  • Dr. Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall and BPA Administrator Elliot Mainzer
    Dr. Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall and BPA Administrator Elliot Mainzer

  • BPA's Dittmer Control Center
    BPA's Dittmer Control Center

On February 8th, I visited the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) in Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington.  I travelled to the Pacific Northwest to join BPA Administrator Elliot Mainzer for a firsthand look at the vital work they are doing to improve U.S. energy infrastructure and use new capabilities to maximize efficiency in our energy use. 

The Bonneville team is at the forefront of DOE’s push toward modernizing our grid for the challenges of the 21st century.  They showed me advanced facilities like the Dittmer Control Center and briefed me on upgraded infrastructure such as the Celilo Converter and Pacific Direct Current Intertie (PDCI), a high-voltage direct current link between the Pacific Northwest and Southwest.  These tangible improvements to our transmission infrastructure are the real deal: they are enhancing resiliency, reliability, and security and ensuring we have the grid our country needs.

As Secretary Moniz announced last month, the Department of Energy is putting significant resources behind this push.  We’ve committed up to $220 million over the next three years as part of our Grid Modernization Multi-Year Program Plan.  This funding would enable our national labs – and their partners in industry and universities – to conduct research into energy storage, integrating variable energy sources, and strengthening infrastructure and distribution systems.  All of these innovations make our grid smarter and more flexible, and better able to rebuff the cyber and physical threats we face.

BPA has already taken substantial steps toward modernizing its infrastructure to meet these challenges.  BPA provides about one-third of the electricity consumed in the Northwest – across an astonishing 15,000 circuit miles of high-voltage transmission lines. While I was there, I spoke with operators at the Dittmer Control Center who monitor the entire transmission system and analyze and respond to emergency situations and problems like blackouts.  They also ensure they maintain the backup capacity necessary to support variation in demand on the grid, facilitate demand response, and answer customer inquiries.  This hub of activity brings under one roof the many responsibilities that BPA has to its customers and the Pacific Northwest region – and its success demonstrates the importance of integrating these functions.

BPA is also making important upgrades to its infrastructure – like the Celilo Converter Station, the northern terminal of the PDCI, which runs 846 miles from The Dalles, Oregon, to Sylmar, California.  This investment is paying off: modernization of Celilo and improvements to the BPA-owned portion of the intertie to the Nevada/Oregon border will increase capacity on the PDCI – the longest commercial transmission line of its kind in the nation – by 120 megawatts.  The station returned to service after its upgrade last month and will be essential to the region’s economic growth for decades to come. 

These projects exemplify some of the major benefits of our grid modernization efforts: providing plentiful, reliable electricity when it is needed to power businesses, and relying more and more on renewable sources to generate that electricity. Tomorrow’s economy must be built on clean energy – and this is what it will take to get there.

What I saw at BPA demonstrated the importance and urgency of these efforts across our nation.  Grid modernization is imperative as we grow the economy while decreasing our carbon emissions.  BPA is leading the way, and setting a terrific example of strategic planning and investments for a low carbon energy future.