‘We have to build a better and smarter grid’: Sen. Cantwell pushes for grid improvements amid heatwave blackouts

SPOKANE, Wash. — Spokane residents were left in the dark during the hottest day in history, and now U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell is pushing for better investments in city power grids.

“First of all, the fact that Spokane and other parts of the state were hit with such a dramatic numbers means that we need to do better by planning for the future with electricity,” Cantwell said during a visit to Spokane on Thursday. “The good news is we actually have enough electricity. We don’t have it in the ability to move it around to places that we need.”

Avista Utilities, which manages power in Eastern Washington, North Idaho, Southern and Eastern Oregon, was forced to shut power off for thousands of customers due to the strain on their electrical system during this week’s heatwave.

Tens of thousands of people cranked up the A/C to escape the heat, which caused four transformers to fail.

RELATED: Avista Utilities comments on power outages across Spokane

PAST COVERAGE: Nearly 6,000 Avista customers without power in Spokane

“First and foremost, we need to plan more transmission and a smarter grid that would prevent blackouts from happening in the futures,” said Cantwell. “We can’t have our residents sitting in this kind of heat and temperatures. It’s just not acceptable.”

In the following days, Avista planned outages across their service area to reduce the load on their system, ranging from North Spokane to Lewiston.

Avista announced Thursday they had no planned outages.

PAST COVERAGE: Avista: No planned blackouts for Thursday, customer conservation helping

“Right now, they’re worried that so much demand for this kind of capacity would’ve created a massive blackout,” said Cantwell.

The senator is hoping to alleviate these problems with new legislation, with the aim of improving power grid reliability.

“We are pushing for a huge investment in our transmission system and borrowing authority for the Bonneville [Power] Administration that is the key responsibility, here in the region, to planning that transmission capacity,” said Cantwell. “We think those two big investments should be a part of the bill. We’re going to on the 14th of July be marking up in the Energy Committee this proposal to build more intelligence and more flexibility into the system.”

Cantwell said she will be visiting Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, as well as working with regional utilities and the BPA to discuss solutions to Washington’s grid issues.

The specific details of this bill have not yet been finalized.

“So we have to have resiliency and redundancy. We have to have a system that has backups to it that can provide that extra electricity and bring it in from other places,” said Cantwell. “But, to do that we have to build a better and smarter grid.”

RELATED: Spokane Medical Examiner: Initial circumstances suggest 5 died from heat-related issues