By Marcy Stamper

The Pateros-Twisp transmission line could be completed and providing electricity to the Methow Valley by the end of the year, with the Okanogan County Public Utility District (PUD) expected to break ground on the long-delayed powerline this summer.

After two decades of planning and 17 years of court challenges for the Methow Transmission Project, the PUD staff and commissioners held a special meeting to award the contract for construction of the 27-mile powerline on Tuesday (Feb. 16) but their decision had not been announced by press time.

Commissioners and staff reviewed eight bids for labor and equipment, ranging from $4.54 million to $9.06 million. Most bids were clustered between $5 million and $7.7 million. Six of the eight bidders are based in Washington; one is headquartered in Utah, and one is in Colorado. Only bidders prequalified by the PUD received bid packets, said John Grubich, the PUD’s general manager.

The PUD is bound by Washington state competitive-bid laws and required to award the contract to the lowest responsible bidder, said Grubich.

In addition to the transmission line, the project includes 7 miles of distribution line, which carries lower-voltage electricity to the end-user. It will also carry fiber-optic cables for Internet access.

Bids were based on the project’s being completed by Dec. 31, according to Grubich. The powerline will be energized as soon as it is completed and will become the main line into the Methow Valley, relieving the 68-year-old Loup Loup line of much of the load it now carries.

The transmission line consists of 257 structures with a total of 424 poles, since some structures have two poles and some only one. The PUD has already purchased the majority of the materials, said Grubich.

Long court battles

The legal battle against the powerline ended in January 2015 when the Washington Supreme Court ruled in favor of the PUD, agreeing that the powerline is compatible with other activities on state land and allowing the PUD to condemn a 100-foot-wide corridor for the line.

Several private property owners also tried to prevent the PUD from condemning their land, but either lost in court or settled with the utility. The majority of the approximately 75 private landowners agreed to provide easements for the utility line.

The powerline will be erected on hillsides east of Highway 153 between Pateros and Twisp, traversing 15 and a half miles of private land and 11.5 miles of state land.

The Loup Loup line was built in 1948 and has been experiencing what are called “line losses” for years, in which the line consumes energy because heat is produced as power is carried along the wires. The PUD expects that reducing the load carried by the Loup Loup line will also reduce the line losses, making that power available to ratepayers.

The Methow Valley News is awaiting final figures from the PUD for the total cost of materials and easements for the transmission line.