Request for Comment on Draft Direct Use of Natural Gas Issue Paper

posted Jan 20, 2015


Whether it's better to use natural gas directly or to generate electricity for water heaters and space heating has been a longstanding question since the Council's first power plan. Over the years, the Council has conducted numerous studies to address this issue, described variously as fuel choice, fuel switching, direct use of gas, and total energy efficiency.

One of the arguments has been that direct use is more efficient--using less total energy to produce the same service--and is therefore better for the environment.

Since the 1980s, the market share for electric space heating has declined while gas space heating has increased. A 2004 survey of new residential buildings found that nearly all new single-family homes where gas was available had gas-fired forced air heating systems. The most recent study, done in 2012, indicates that this trend is continuing: Single-family electric space heating dropped from about 60 percent in 1992 to about 33 percent by 2012, and electric water heating's market share declined from 76 percent to about 55 percent.

Given this trend, and the Council's analysis of the issue, staff is recommending that it will continue with its existing policy on the direct use of natural gas. The Council's policy, adopted in its first plan, is that fuel switching is not conservation under the Northwest Power Act, which is defined as the "more efficient use of electricity." The Council also determined that fuel choice markets are reasonably competitive and should be allowed to work without interference.

Its draft issue paper is available for comment until February 20, 2015. The Council will consider public comment on the paper at its March meeting in Eugene.


Washington and Idaho members will lead Council in 2015

posted Jan 13, 2015

Phil Rockefeller and Bill Booth

The Council elected Washington and Idaho members to lead the four-state energy and fish and wildlife planning agency in 2015.

Phil Rockefeller, appointed to the Council in 2011 by then-Governor Christine Gregoire, was elected chair of the Council. In 2014, Mr. Rockefeller served as chair of the Council’s fish and wildlife committee. The Council also elected Idaho member Bill Booth as vice chair. Mr. Booth previously served in several Council leadership positions including two terms as chair, in 2008 and 2009.

Before being appointed to the Council, Mr. Rockefeller, whose Council office is in Olympia, served 13 years in the Washington Legislature where he chaired the Senate Environment, Water & Energy Committee. Among his legislative accomplishments are the 2007 bill creating the Puget Sound Partnership, and legislation enacted in 2011 that transitions Washington from coal-based power production. From 1981 to 1984, Mr. Rockefeller served as a policy assistant to former Governor John Spellman. He received his undergraduate degree from Yale University and his law degree from Harvard.

Mr. Booth, of Coeur d’Alene, was appointed to the Council in January 2007 by Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter and serves as a member of the governor’s cabinet. Mr. Booth is a former U.S. Air Force officer and senior minerals industry executive in environmental and government affairs. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Idaho and a master’s of business administration while serving in the Air Force.


"The Objectives Process" begins

posted Dec 11, 2014

Spawning spring Chinook salmon in Idaho's Red River, a tributary of the Clearwater. The Council is working with others to gather quantifiable information such as the number of spawners, water temperatures, spawning habitat quality, and other environmental attributes into a set of objectives for salmon and steelhead for the fish and wildlife program.

One of the most important commitments to fish in the Council’s new, 2014 Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program has the distinction of being absolutely vital yet almost impossibly complex and, at first blush, intensely bureaucratic.

At its heart, though, the idea is quite simple. The Council is committed to develop a better answer to a basic question: How are the fish doing?

To that end, the Council commits in the program to work with the region’s fish managers -- state, federal, and tribal -- to collect, organize, review, and report on the myriad objectives (physical and biological changes that can be quantified) in recovery and rebuilding plans for salmon and steelhead over the breadth of the Columbia drainage. Salmon and steelhead will be first, followed by objectives for resident fish, wildlife, and environmental attributes. Ultimately, the Council hopes to amend the program with a fairly simple set of goals and objectives that have broad regional support.

This week the Council’s Fish and Wildlife Division staff began what will be an intense collaboration with fish managers, meeting at the Council headquarters with representatives of NOAA Fisheries, the Bonneville Power Administration, and others. More meetings will follow. Tribes and states are vitally important partners, and the public will have opportunities to participate.

The Council hopes to gather all of the objectives into a report by the end of 2015. The report will inform further collaborative discussions to refine goals and objectives for salmon and steelhead throughout the basin that will meet legal requirements, cultural purposes, recreational opportunities, and other rationales for protecting, producing, and harvesting the fish.

At least, that’s the hope.

The complexity and difficulty of the task, which the Council is calling informally “The Objectives Process,” was not lost on those at the initial meeting. For starters, NOAA Fisheries has population-specific goals and objectives to recover listed species under the ESA; the Council’s fish and wildlife program includes broad objectives that address listed and unlisted species; tribes have objectives for fish production and harvest, as do states. Some of these may conflict -- probably do in some streams and rivers.

The goal of the objectives process is to identify the right number of the best objectives to track fish and wildlife progress. The Council plans to call the parties together again in January to continue the conversation.

Assessing future generating resources for energy, capacity, flexibility

posted Dec 9, 2014

Idaho Power Company's Langley Gulch power plant

The Council’s Power Planning Division staff is developing the Seventh Power Plan resource strategy, essentially a blueprint for acquiring generating resources and energy efficiency to meet future demand for electricity.

This is a complex task because the region’s power supply has become more complex over the past several decades. In the past, power planners simply designed resource strategies to meet the predicted energy needs of the region, making sure that electricity generation would be sufficient to meet anticipated demand. If there were shortfalls, during extreme heat or cold, for example, the vast capability of the Northwest hydroelectric system was generally sufficient to fill in the gaps.

Today, with the addition of more than 8,000 megawatts of variable wind generation and with increasing constraints on the operation of the hydroelectric system, to aid juvenile salmon and steelhead migration, for example, it no longer can be assumed that simply planning to meet anticipated energy demands will be sufficient.

Accordingly, the resource strategy today must include provisions to meet anticipated demand (energy), peak loads (capacity), and the ability to integrate resources like wind and solar whose output can change significantly over short periods of time (flexibility). In short, the power system must not only meet annual energy needs and  hourly  peak loads, but match generation to loads within in each hour without falling outside a small margin of error required to maintain a stable power system.

At the Council’s Power Committee December meeting, the Power Planning Division staff proposed to use the Council’s GENESYS model to determine the amount of energy and capacity that will be needed in the future to keep the loss-of-load probability at or below the 5-percent reliability standard. This information will then be used in the Council’s Regional Portfolio Model when it tests alternative resource strategies to determine the economics of minimizing the cost of satisfying energy and capacity needs.

To assess flexibility needs, the staff is proposing to analyze both operating reserves and the ramping capability of the power system, but this will be a more complex task. The staff will work with other experts to develop an appropriate methodology, incorporating demand response and the potential for an energy imbalance market, which may change the supply of, and demand for, flexible resources in the region.

The staff plans to discuss its approach to modeling future capacity requirements with the Council’s System Analysis Advisory Committee and the Pacific Northwest Utility Conference Committee’s System Planning Committee. Staff also will engage these same groups on its proposed framework and analytical approach to addressing system operating reserves and flexibility.

Implementing the 2014 Fish and Wildlife Program

posted Dec 9, 2014


In October, the Council approved the latest version of its Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program, revised every five years. Now the Council is beginning to discuss how it will be implemented.

At its monthly meeting this week, the Council’s Fish and Wildlife Committee began discussing program implementation in these areas:

Work plan: The Council’s Fish and Wildlife Division staff is developing a detailed work plan to define individual tasks and processes outlined in the program, which is implemented through hundreds of projects. This will include tracking projects and reporting on their progress. The Council also plans to convene a forum of regional fish and wildlife agencies, tribes, and other project sponsors annually to discuss work and issues for the upcoming year, and from these meetings the Council may take actions such as convening science and policy forums, workgroups, and special panels to aid in program development and implementation. The first meeting of the forum could be in February.

Project review: The 2014 Program includes measures that expand existing work in new or additional directions or represent new directions for the program. However, according to the program, before that happens, the Council needs to inventory, prioritize, and fund work that will bring aging program-related infrastructure into proper functioning condition. No additional funding exists for this work, or for any new projects, so funding will have to come from savings in existing projects, close-out of projects, or new funding.

Reintroduction: The program has called for reintroducing anadromous fish into historic habitat areas now blocked by dams, where feasible, since the early 1990s. After receiving recommendations from state and federal fish and wildlife agencies and Indian tribes, the 2014 Program calls for a science-based, phased approach to study habitat availability, suitability, and salmon potential above Grand Coulee Dam. The program also calls for Council discussions with tribal, state, federal, and other agencies regarding the purpose, scope, and progress of reintroduction efforts for juvenile and adult anadromous fish into the blocked areas of the upper Columbia. At the Council’s December meeting, D.R. Michel, executive director of the Upper Columbia United Tribes, whose members were among those who recommended reintroduction language for the new program, said he is working with his members to develop a proposal for coordinated study of the issue and hopes to present a proposal to the Council in January.

From paper to the web: The Council staff is working to make the 2014 Program accessible on a dynamic, multi-faceted website that will provide easy links between program sections to show how the pieces work together.

Why We Plan for Uncertainty

posted Nov 19, 2014

Why We Have a Regional Power Plan

posted Oct 29, 2014

Estimating Energy Efficiency

posted Oct 24, 2014

Seventh Power Plan 101

posted Oct 6, 2014

Weathering a Cold Snap

posted Jan 17, 2014

The Seventh Power Plan

posted Dec 11, 2013

Designing for Efficiency

posted Nov 12, 2013

The Flexibility Challenge

posted Oct 30, 2013

Northwest Q & A: Robert D. Kahn

posted Oct 29, 2013

Tagging Sturgeon in Astoria

posted Aug 22, 2013

Habitat Tours Focus on Results

posted May 31, 2013

Sustainability Is Success

posted May 29, 2013

A Last Look at Condit Dam

posted Oct 24, 2011

Changing Minds, Changing the Land

posted Jul 26, 2011

Wind Power, Then and Now

posted Apr 18, 2011

The Rebound Effect: Is It Real?

posted Feb 1, 2011

An Update on Didymo

posted Jan 27, 2011

Didymo: A New Kind of Invader

posted Jan 18, 2011

A Good Year for Returning Salmon

posted Sep 30, 2010

Building a Better Battery

posted Aug 11, 2010

Using Batteries to Store Energy

posted Jul 28, 2010

Growing Summer Energy Demand

posted Jul 26, 2010

California's Energy Scene

posted Jul 23, 2010

Ensuring Efficiency

posted Jun 21, 2010

Making Wind Work

posted Jun 7, 2010

Clean Tech Draws VC Funding

posted May 3, 2010

And the Wind Came Up

posted Apr 6, 2010