Snake River Dams and Regional Power Grid
127 E. Augusta Avenue
Power should be easy
Power should be easy, right? Power is slow-moving unlike fish passage which presents as an acute, must-do-something-now issue. And unlike transportation where we have not even begun to think about alternatives to the river, power seems to be going predictably in the right direction, with more wind and solar coming on line.
Yet power can be dicey too. We do not tolerate any interruption in supply – this makes for very conservative modelling. There are very big dollars involved in generating, transmitting, and selling power – there is a lot of money to be made and lost in the power sector. And there are corner-stone actors fully invested in power that are facing disruption by new players competing for the dollars.
Still not convinced that power warrants your attention? Try climate change. BPA uses 1937 low-water year to project supply for a good reason. Dams run on energy from river flows. Drop river levels from a drought in British Columbia and Portland faces “demand response” – current language for managing brownouts. Or try the demand side. Heat spikes in California push up the dials on air conditioning. Winter cold snaps do the same for heating.
On March 1, 2019, the Midc index price for day ahead bilateral trades exceeded $900/MWh for heavy load hour energy and $160/MMbtu for natural gas. These prices were driven by a number of factors including cold temperatures, a pro-longed cold period prior to March 1 resulting in depletion of hydro generation and natural gas in storage, a maintenance outage on the DC intertie, and limitations in supplies of natural gas impacting the ability of some natural gas generation to operate. (Hardy Energy Associates: Future Northwest Capacity Shortages)
Randy Hardy, head of BPA in the 90’s, puts weather, hydro, coal and natural gas together for a caution:
Pray for Rain and Mild Weather
Murphy’s law predicts that the next low water year in the PNW will arrive in 2025 as
peak coal plant retirement occurs and the PNW IRPs [integrated resource plans] defer decisions on construction of new resources waiting for the next cost reduction in carbon free capacity (ibid.).
Hardy moves the argument from the Lower Snake River Dams providing just firm power for balancing to being a necessary energy source.
The Northwest Power Planning Council in its draft mid-term assessment of its Seventh Power Plan has also noted the PNW faces resource adequacy issues absent new construction (ibid.).
Just when you thought PNW power supply and distribution was on auto-pilot, there are analysts staying awake at night preparing for rough weather.
Please make plans to join us in Spokane.
Don Schwerin, chair