Grid analysts challenge Bonneville Power’s pace in adopting advanced conductors


Grid analysts have said that the Bonneville Power Administration, a generation and transmission utility owned by the U.S. Government that serves northwestern states, is moving too slowly to adopt advanced conductors.

Advanced conductors are high-capacity conductors that can replace existing conductors on existing transmission towers.

BPA has “begun the process” to analyze and qualify advanced conductors to increase the capacity of its grid, the utility said in January, adding that the process “can take months or years of physical testing and analyses.”

Analysts at Energy Innovation and GridLab challenged BPA’s approach and that of many other transmission providers, saying that “studying the technology itself rather than relying on real-world deployments or other peer organizations’ testing to approve the technology appears to be the status quo among transmission organizations. This ‘bottom-up’ adoption strategy considerably slows integration of many emerging technologies, not just advanced conductors.” They said BPA’s approach is commonly used at other utilities as well.

The analysts presented their views in a companion report to a technical analysis that found reconductoring could enable 764 GW of transmission-connected solar by 2035.

 The U.S. Department of Energy last month flagged reconductoring as having substantial potential to increase transmission capacity, in a “liftoff” report calling for a national collaboration to deploy such technologies.

The White House this week announced a federal-state initiative involving 21 states to modernize the grid, in alignment with its effort to mobilize public and private sector leaders to upgrade 100,000 miles of transmission lines over the next five years. Substantial federal funding for reconductoring is available through three programs made possible through the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL).

One indicator of reconductoring’s potential within BPA’s service area is that from 2000 to 2023, the utility completed six high-voltage projects that enabled interconnection of 7 GW of wind power and 525 MW of solar.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s recent Order 1920, which requires utilities to develop and periodically update a long-term transmission plan, requires each utility to “consider” advanced conductors when developing their plan.

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