Bonneville Power Administration

02/11/2019 | News release | Distributed by Public on 02/11/2019 11:45

Special Exhibit Visits BPA before Touring the Region

Research, innovation and the tools to transport high voltage electricity: the High Voltage Direct Current Test Center (HVDC Test Center) at BPA existed from 1963 to 2017, and its story now lives on in an exhibit, available for viewing in the BPA Library and Visitor Center for two weeks only, Feb. 13 - 27.

The HVDC Test Center, the first facility of its kind in the United States, was established to use emerging industry knowledge on conversion between alternating current and direct current. This conversion technology could enable stable long-distance electricity transmission that moved as a high voltage, direct current before it was converted to a lower voltage, alternating current when it reached the end-user home or business.

Tests conducted at the HVDC Test Center gave BPA the information it needed to design a system to transmit power from what would become BPA's Celilo Converter Station, near The Dalles, Ore. to the Sylmar Converter Station at Los Angeles Water and Power in Calif. This, the Pacific Northwest-Pacific Southwest Intertie, used an 846-mile long direct current line that was heralded as the longest of its kind in the world.

In 2014, BPA proposed demolition of the HVDC Test Center. The buildings had been vacant since the 1990s, were deteriorating, contained toxic materials, and droppings from its resident pigeons and mice created hazardous conditions. Additionally, demolition would clear the way for the expansion the Big Eddy switchyard to increase its capacity to serve growing electricity needs.

'The very large and innovative building complex of the HVDC Test Center above The Dalles Dam was pretty much out of sight for the entire length of its existence to everyone except those who worked there,' said Libby Burke, BPA Library and Visitor Center archivist.

'But now we've created an information-rich graphic environment where everyone can learn about BPA's great engineering advancements that took long distance transmission into a new era, and also see some items that existed in the original complex,' said Burke.

BPA Library and Visitor Center staff salvaged over 30 boxes of historical plans, equipment instructions and original day-to-day test documentation and photos, which had been abandoned in the control house and its attic since 1996. Some of these documents were used to identify toxic materials that had been used in early construction, aiding in proper discovery and disposition of these materials in the demolition process.

This documentation also supported the content for the current exhibit as well as the narrative report sent to the Oregon State Historical Preservation Office. The document and artifact collection will be preserved in the BPA Library's archives.

'By the time I visited the test center in 2016, almost everything had been removed, but the control desk panels were still intact,' said exhibit project manager, BPA Historian Tama Tochihara. 'We worked with the demolition contractors to salvage the panels, and we stored them for the possibility of future use, one of which has been incorporated into the exhibit.'

The BPA Library and Visitor Center staff also salvaged wall panels showing test plans, and several glass insulators that were still hanging in the anteroom of the fog chamber (a space that allowed researchers to simulate fog and wet conditions and its impact on transmission), some of which have also been added to the exhibit.

The test center was considered a significant historic resource, such that specific requirements of the National Historic Preservation Act had to be met, one of which was the creation of a full color public traveling interpretive display, the very exhibit now on display at the BPA Library and Visitor Center through Feb. 27.

After BPA, the exhibit moves on to the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center & Museum, when, on March 8, Burke will offer a program introducing the story of the HVDC Test Center and opening the exhibit. This program is open to the public. The exhibit will be on display at the museum from March 9 through May, 2019, after which it will move to The Dalles Dam Visitor Center, Bonneville Dam Visitor Center and the Oregon state capital building.

The public is welcome to view the exhibit free of charge. The BPA Library and Visitor Center is located at 905 NE 11th Ave., Portland, OR and open from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm, Monday through Friday. Public visitors must go through airport-style security upon entry. Contact [email protected] for more information.