Meet the engineers planning the future of the Northwest grid, ensuring that BPA continues to provide reliable and resilient transmission service.
"Our work requires open-ended problem solving across multiple technical disciplines — it’s engineering in its purest form. That can be frustrating and scary to most, but I relish the technical challenge and enjoy how impactful our end product is across the entire agency and the region."Dave Cathcart, Electrical Engineer
Transmission PlanningHave you ever noticed giant steel transmission towers and wondered why they were built where they were, what they were connecting or who identified the need to put them there? Meet Transmission Planning, the team responsible for studying, planning and developing the future of the Northwest grid. These electrical engineers plan for the future demand and challenges facing the power system by using a variety of forecasted scenarios influenced by load growth, electrification, decarbonization and the interconnection of new renewable resources to meet state mandates.
What does your team do?
The Transmission Planning team is responsible for developing transmission expansion plans for BPA’s expansive high-voltage transmission network. These plans are necessary to ensure BPA continues to provide reliable and resilient transmission service in the future while accounting for existing obligations, load growth, the integration of new generating resources and new large loads.
How does your work group or team support BPA’s mission and strategy?
Transmission Planning enables BPA to continue providing reliable and resilient transmission service at the best value and while meeting future needs. We perform studies to ensure BPA Transmission can meet existing obligations in later years and develop plans of service to enable new long-term firm transmission service as well as the interconnection of new resources and large loads in our service territory. We address load service, congestion and new transmission service requests by using flexible, scalable, cost-effective and efficient solutions.
How does your team’s role help the agency prepare for, respond to or build resiliency to climate change?
Our team helps the agency prepare for climate change impacts. We systematically model the evolving power grid and perform computer simulations, or studies. The studies use load forecasts provided by local utility customers and BPA’s Load Forecasting and Analysis team that capture transmission demand over five- and 10-year timeframes. After the analysis, we develop resilient and reliable transmission through plans of service that accommodate the changing generation mix and increasing demand for electricity in the future.
Our studies model both generation interconnection and transmission service requests to ensure BPA provides reliable plans of service. The former looks at the unprecedented demand of renewable resources seeking to interconnect onto our system, while the latter makes sure the transmission system use is adequate to service the need of our transmission customers.
We also collaborate with other utilities, industry experts, regional planning groups, national laboratories and industry leaders on studies of extreme weather impacts and other power sector trends to help BPA prepare for a reliable and resilient future.
"The power grid is an incredible machine. I enjoy studying it and learning from experienced engineers."
Anna Beus, Electrical Engineer
"I enjoy studying the challenges facing the region’s power grid, such as incorporating large generation resources or accommodating load growth. Working within BPA and other utilities to develop projects to best suit all stakeholders is very rewarding."
Richard Schafer, Electrical Engineer
How does your team’s role help the agency provide efficient and reliable operations for not only today but for the future?
We strive to plan a transmission system that operates efficiently and reliably. We do this by considering many future scenarios, both by looking at past system performance and by thinking through how policies, legislation and technological changes will impact the system in the future. Today, we are considering a future with less reliance on, and eventually the retirement of, carbon-emitting resources. We consider the growing electrification of the building and transportation sectors, the increases in load and the resiliency required to reliably meet that demand, and the impacts of climate change, which will bring frequent extreme hot and cold temperatures. The integration of new renewable generating resources on a large scale is another key consideration for our planning efforts.
What is this team’s biggest priority?
Our biggest priority is ensuring that BPA’s transmission system is reliable. There is tremendous pressure to interconnect large-scale renewables and large loads onto the transmission system at an incredible pace. Transmission Planning seeks to meet the needs of our customers while continuing to provide the reliable and economical service that BPA puts at the forefront of its mission. Through the plans of service we develop, our team is committed to continue providing excellent service to the Pacific Northwest for years to come.
What are this team’s biggest challenges? How do you tackle those challenges?
One of the biggest challenges for Transmission Planning is uncertainty of what the future holds. To decarbonize the grid, the power generation resource mix will change dramatically with the integration of new renewable resources, and electricity demand is growing with the electrification of the building and transportation sectors. There is a lot of uncertainty around these changes and their effects on the transmission grid, so this requires us to plan for more scenarios in the longer-term planning horizon than we have in the past.
Another big challenge for Transmission Planning is the pace of business. There are an unprecedented number of requests for new interconnections, mainly for renewable resources and data centers coming online, that exceed the capacity of the existing grid. It’s a big challenge to strike a balance between providing new facilities for their requested interconnections and maintaining a reliable system for existing and new transmission customers. Our team tackles these challenges by collaborating closely, sharing ideas and tools, delegating work across the team, and finding innovative ways to meet these challenges.
What makes this team successful?
Transmission Planning is successful because we have great people who support one another. Not only is each engineer driven to learn intricate details of the transmission system and the study tools, everyone also takes every opportunity to knowledge share with others to increase depth and breadth within the team.
"I’m most proud of the Longview Transformer Addition project. I did some validation studies that confirmed the need for a transformer addition at Longview when I first joined Transmission Planning. This project improves the overall reliability of Cowlitz Public Utility District’s service territory and increased transmission capacity on the South of Allston path."
Rashid Warsame, Electrical Engineer
"Working on customer requests in Transmission Planning is always interesting because of the continued changes and advancements in generators and loads that we are interconnecting. It’s exciting to plan for projects such as new solar sites, battery installations and data centers, and then see them come online."
Matt Ingold, Electrical Engineer
After months of mediation, BPA has entered into an agreement to support three upper Columbia River tribes’ effort to reintroduce salmon above Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams.
BPA energy efficiency engineer Tony Koch spoke to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and represented BPA’s efforts to improve EE in multi-family residential and commercial domestic hot water heating.
Four BPA transmission line maintenance crews recently completed an emergency ground wire replacement operation across the Columbia River, restringing lines damaged during a January 2023 storm.