Bonneville Power Administration
Focusing on the Northwest
If you live in the Pacific Northwest, chances are you use electricity marketed and delivered by the Bonneville Power Administration - best known as BPA. BPA is a federal agency headquartered in Portland, Or, that markets wholesale electricity and transmission to the Pacific Northwest's public and private utilities as well as to some large industries.
BPA provides about half the electricity used in the Northwest and operates over three-fourths of the region's high-voltage transmission.
While BPA is part of the Department of Energy, it is not tax-supported through government appropriations. Instead, BPA recovers all of its costs through sales of electricity and transmission and repays the U.S. Treasury in full with interest for any money it borrows.
Serving the public interest
Because BPA markets energy and transmission at cost, rather than at market prices, it has traditionally provided some of the lowest cost electricity in the nation. This low-cost power has been a cornerstone of the Northwest economy, stimulating growth and new jobs. BPA also funds measures to protect and enhance fish and wildlife populations affected by hydropower development. In addition, the agency provides a number of public benefits including incentives for energy conservation programs and research and development of renewable resources and promising technologies, such as fuel cells. BPA also works with other federal agencies to coordinate operations of the Federal Columbia River Power System to ensure maximum efficiency in the system and minimum environmental impacts.
Bringing power to the region
Congress and the Roosevelt Administration created BPA in 1937, just before completion of Bonneville and Grand Coulee dams in 1938 and 1941. They anticipated the need to market energy from these new power sources. One of BPA's early missions focused on electrifying farms and small communities with public power. These rural areas were not profitable for private utilities to serve.
Today, BPA markets the power generated at 31 federal dams, one nonfederal nuclear plant at Hanford, WA, and some nonfederal power plants, such as wind projects.
BPA's service territory covers all of Washington, Oregon and Idaho, and western Montana, as well as small contiguous portions of California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and eastern Montana. BPA's wholesale customers include public utilities, public utility districts, municipal districts, public cooperatives, some investor-owned utilities and a few large industries such as aluminum companies.
Some of these customers buy all their power from BPA, while others supplement their supply with nonfederal power. In years when the Northwest experiences heavy snow and rain, the Columbia River system can generate more electricity than BPA customers need. BPA offers this surplus energy to its Northwest customers first. Only then, if there are no takers, utilities and municipalities outside the region can buy it. Money generated from surplus sales helps keep power rates in the Northwest low.
Building the transmission network
To deliver power, BPA began building transmission lines in the 1930s. The first line connected Bonneville Dam to Cascade Locks, just three miles from the dam. Major construction from the 1940s through the 1960s created networks and loops of high-voltage wire touching most parts of BPA's service territory. The system now includes more than 15,000 miles of line and 300 substations.
Dispatchers coordinate and monitor power flowing throughout the Northwest as well as to other parts of the West, making sure that this complex, interconnected system runs smoothly. In addition to the transmission network within the Northwest, BPA operates large interregional transmission lines that connect to Canada, California, the Southwest and eastern Montana. These transmission lines enable BPA to bring power into the region when it's needed, such as on very cold winter days when there is high demand, and to sell power outside the region when it is surplus to the Northwest's needs.
Unless otherwise noted, information is for fiscal year 2006.
|Service area size (square miles)||300,000|
|Pacific Northwest population||11,950,509|
|Transmission line (circuit miles)||15,442|
|Public utility districts||29|
- About 80 percent of the power BPA sells is hydroelectric.
- BPA owns and operates about three-fourths of the high-voltage transmission in the Pacific Northwest.
- BPA has spent more than $8.7 billion since 1978 to support Northwest fish and wildlife recovery which includes more than $4.7 billion in energy purchases and loss of energy sales due to fish operations.
- Since 1981, BPA has added more than 900 average megawatts to its long-term power supply through its energy conservation programs.