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The Northwest transmission grid took a step into the future with a $370 million piece of infrastructure modernization, the Celilo Converter Station.
Bonneville Power Administration Administrator Elliot Mainzer called Celilo’s return to commercial operation “an important moment for infrastructure development in the region.” Construction began in the fall of 2014, and the station had been out of service since October for final installation and comprehensive testing of its customized new equipment.
The converter station, owned by the BPA, tames and transforms high volumes of electricity flowing through the northern end of the Pacific Direct Current Intertie.
The 846-mile electron super-highway, the longest commercial transmission line of its kind in the nation, connects the Northwest with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power at Sylmar, Calif. The intertie provides affordable energy, reliability and cost benefits to customers at either end, and the electricity that flows from north to south is virtually carbon-free.
BPA, which funded the improvements, is also in the process of upgrading the 265-mile portion of intertie that it owns from the Columbia River to the Nevada-Oregon border.
The modernization of the converter station — including six massive new transformers, each weighing more than a Boeing 747 airliner — anchors a $498 million package of BPA-funded grid upgrades to the northern leg of the PDCI. When the final phase of the overall project is completed this fall, the BPA transmission line upgrades will raise the capacity of the intertie from 3,100 to 3,220 MW.
The Pacific Direct Current Intertie, a high-voltage direct current system (HVDC), was a marvel and a model when it was energized in 1970. Direct-current systems can move large amounts of electricity over long distances more efficiently than alternating current lines of a similar length because less power is lost to the air as heat along the way.
That electrical feat, and the intricate technology that supports it, attracts utility representatives, government officials and business people from as far away as Africa and Asia to visit Celilo. But after more than four decades of vigorous, dependable service, the vintage equipment at the converter station had far surpassed its operational life span and was due for a transformation of its own.
To see a time-lapse video of the massive new transformers being shipped from the manufacturer in Sweden to the United States and up the Columbia River by barge to The Dalles, Ore., visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQ_f0BF0pvY.