BPA kills I-5 corridor power-line project

Plan would have placed high-voltage transmission lines in Camas, Washougal

More than four years after Camas leaders urged Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) officials to reconsider plans to place high-voltage transmission lines on an 80-mile stretch of land winding through Southwest Washington and Northwest Oregon, the controversial project has come to halt.

BPA officials announced last Thursday that they will not build the I-5 Corridor Reinforcement Project, which would have sited 3.6 miles of 500-kilovolt transmission lines within Washougal’s Urban Growth Area, across the Washougal River, into Camas’ Groot Park region and across the Columbia River from Camas to Troutdale, Oregon.

The project, designed to meet growing energy transmission needs in the Portland-Vancouver region, first came under scrutiny in 2009, with many residents who lived near the proposed transmission line sites worrying about health risks and environmental damage. In 2013, Camas officials jumped into the discussion, urging BPA officials to minimize the project’s impact to the city’s planned urban growth area north of Lacamas Lake and to bury transmission lines within Camas city limits, per city ordinance.

BPA officials had nixed the city’s request for undergrounding, saying that it was not only cost-prohibitive but also came with failure risks if the lines were to overheat.

In 2016, BPA’s administrator, Elliot Mainzer, said BPA engineers were looking into other options to meet customers’ needs, including “non-wire” options like energy efficiency measures and using small-scale power generation technology during peak load times to possibly avoid building the 80-mile transmission line project, which had, at that point, received more than 10,000 comments during the project’s environmental impact statement process.

Last week, Mainzer said BPA officials have concluded that they can provide reliability without the controversial high-voltage transmission line project.

“Given the extensive work we’ve done in the past 15 months with regional partners and others, we are now confident that we can continue to meet the demands on the grid without building this 80-mile line in southwest Washington,” Mainzer stated in a public letter dated Thursday, May 18.

He added that the project’s “scope, impact and increasing budget” had pushed BPA to reconsider its approach on planning for and managing its transmission system.

The energy administration is now looking to those “non-wire” options to meet its customers’ energy needs.

According to the BPA press release, the administration will, over the next few weeks, “begin implementing a two-year pilot project that will provide targeted transmission congestion relief in the greater Portland-Vancouver area during peak periods of electric use in the summer.”

Camas Mayor Scott Higgins said he is pleased with the BPA’s decision to move away from the I-5 Corridor Reinforcement Project and that city leaders were optimistic that the power administration would continue to provide the “affordable and reliable power” on which Camas residents and businesses rely.

“Camas wanted other alternatives,” Higgins said, referencing city leaders’ past talks with BPA officials about the high-voltage transmission line project. “Clearly they were looking for ways to keep these services going, without greatly impact residents in this area. I’m pleased with conclusion and optimistic that we will continue to have affordable and reliable power and great service from the BPA.”