Delivering Power to NLI Members

A BPA transmission line, which delivers power to local substations, crosses an NLI distribution line. Photo by Kristin Mettke

Northern Lights (NLI) relies on the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA)—a federal power marketing administration based in the Pacific Northwest—for about 90% of its energy needs. NLI also relies on BPA to provide transmission services to deliver the power it generates to the co-op’s substations.

Much like NLI experiences outages on its power lines, so does BPA. When BPA has an outage with a transmission line that serves NLI, a large portion of co-op members will be without power.

Widespread windstorms in the area can cause outages to both BPA and NLI. When BPA has an outage during a storm, it is difficult for NLI to tell what is damaged on the co-op’s system served by the BPA line until BPA has completed its repairs.

When a protection device opens on one of NLI’s lines, co-op crews can quickly find the damaged area. If the line does not have power, the protection devices do not work.

If a widespread area does not have power due to a BPA outage, it is hard to know if trees have fallen on NLI lines or poles have broken. As a member, if you see damage to NLI lines, please call and report it and, of course, keep clear of downed lines.

BPA covers a large area and has more than 15,000 miles of transmission lines in the Pacific Northwest. As a result, it can take BPA longer to respond to an outage. BPA employees are spread throughout the region and are responsible for many miles of lines.

If NLI lineworkers observe an issue on a BPA line or a co-op member alerts NLI to one, the co-op reports that to BPA so repair crews can go straight to the affected area.

BPA lines that serve NLI have taps off the main transmission lines. When an outage occurs on a tap, it sometimes causes the entire line to go offline.

Many of these taps can be isolated and the main line brought back online. Unfortunately, this may cause a widespread outage before the tap line can be isolated.

BPA outages affect not only NLI, but neighboring utilities. NLI is working on a project with BPA to automatically isolate a problematic tap line in the co-op’s service area to reduce the number of members impacted during an outage on the tap.

At some BPA substations, switching cannot occur unless the substation is deenergized. This typically means members will experience a two- to fiveminute outage while BPA switches.

Switching is done to isolate damaged sections of lines or perform maintenance. If BPA switching is planned in advance, NLI sends out an automated phone call notifying members of an upcoming brief outage.

Like NLI, BPA wants to provide reliable and affordable services to its customers. NLI is in regular communication and coordination with BPA to discuss issues, concerns, and upcoming plans to ensure the electric system is meeting the needs of members.

Kristin MettkeNorthern Lights Engineering & Operations Manager Kristin Mettke is an electrical engineer and has worked in the electric utility industry most of her career.