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Bonneville projects boost wind capacity in northwest

Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) has proposed two power line improvement projects that will allow more electricity produced at wind farms in Montana to flow to markets that need power, the agency said in a release.

The Northern Intertie Reinforcement Project would include substation, line and other equipment upgrades to increase capacity on BPA’s link to Canada in coordination with Puget Sound Energy.

The Colstrip Upgrade Project would combine system upgrades to boost transmission capacity in eastern Washington and Montana in coordination with a NorthWestern Energy project.

BPA said the additional upgrades will allow 3,200 megawatts of additional power to flow – about triple the generating capacity of Bonneville Dam – including 1,900 MW of wind.

“The projects will allow BPA to provide transmission service to wind projects in Montana,” said Brian Silverstein, BPA’s senior vice president for transmission service.

Most wind projects on the BPA system are located in the Columbia Gorge region, creating a challenge for grid operators to manage constant variations in wind output, BPA said.

“More geographic diversity in wind projects could make balancing easier,” Silverstein said.

BPA currently has 3,500 MW of wind generation connected to its network, an amount expected to double as early as 2013.

Montana, which ranks among the top five states for wind power potential, has just 375 MW of wind generation currently with about 500 MW planned by year end, according to a state website.

Last week, frustrated wind farm owners filed a complaint with federal regulators over a BPA policy that currently curtails wind operations in times of low demand and low prices.

The largest snowpack since 1997 has boosted Northwest river levels and hydro output, complicating growing competition between hydro and wind interests in the region where BPA operates 75 percent of the grid.

BPA said both upgrade plans were the result of a “network open season,” BPA’s process to gauge demand for new transmission.

The projects will work in conjunction with four new high-voltage lines already under construction or development that were identified in a 2008 open season.

Preliminary engineering and environmental review of the projects could take one to two years, BPA said. The federal agency will decide whether to proceed after that.