Scenario Analysis Is Coming!

posted Jan 22, 2015


As a planning agency, the Council is obsessed with the future. Although it is impossible to predict it, the Council endeavors to prepare the region with knowledge and tools that can be economically and efficiently employed to ensure that our electricity supply remains inexpensive, adequate, clean, and reliable.

One important phase in the development of the Council’s Seventh Northwest Power Plan is the modeling of future energy scenarios using the regional portfolio model. We will use the model to analyze various scenarios and assess the likely implications for energy loads and supply, prices, and environmental impacts.

There are myriad questions and predictions swirling around the region regarding the future structure and function of our energy system. What would a low carbon or carbon-free future look like and how much would it cost? How will California’s continued expansion of renewable energy affect the Northwest? How much cost- effective energy efficiency is available over the next 20 years and how fast can it be acquired? Will solar energy become a more important resource for the Northwest? These and other questions may be examined during this phase of the development of the Seventh Northwest Power Plan.

The Council’s power committee will begin discussing scenario analysis at its February and March meetings in Portland and Eugene, respectively. We are also expecting a robust discussion at the Resource Strategies Advisory Committee meeting on March 12 in Portland where regional stakeholders will have an opportunity to suggest and shape possible scenarios for modeling. Selected results of the scenario modeling are expected to be available for public review on our website as the draft plan is developed. Ultimately, all the results of the scenario analysis, as well as other analysis, will be available when the draft plan is released in late summer or fall.

Update on Redeveloping the Regional Portfolio Model

posted Jan 21, 2015


The Council's regional portfolio model is the primary tool it uses to compare the cost and risk of alternate resource strategies. It has been under redevelopment for the past several months to update its software and improve its transparency.

At the Council's power committee meeting in January, staff reviewed the key data inputs, assumptions, and model logic that most significantly influence the model's results. These include things like forecasts for the potential range of future electricity and natural gas prices, load growth, and hydro generation. They also include policy assumptions about future conditions such as the price or limits on carbon emissions. The model's internal logic can also significantly influence its results through alternative decision rules to ensure that the region has adequate resources to meet its energy and capacity needs, as well as sufficient renewable resource construction to satisfy RPS goals.

The staff will continue to identify the "big knob" inputs as the regional portfolio model's redevelopment progresses. The January presentation helped set the stage for the next discussions of the Council's scenario analysis in February and March. The redeveloped regional portfolio model is scheduled to be ready to use in March, so get set to provide your comments on this critical phase in planning our energy future.

Keeping Up With Emerging Technologies

posted Jan 20, 2015


In developing a regional power plan, the Council evaluates resources, including energy efficiency, based on their reliability, availability, development potential, capital and operating costs, and environmental effects, to name just a few important attributes. Resources that are well established--natural gas, wind, and solar, for example--are assessed in detail and treated as concrete options in the Council's resource portfolio model.

But for those generating and energy efficiency technologies that are promising, but not yet available commercially, the Council will estimate their future costs and potential in the region within the next 10-20 years. Because the cost and performance of these resources is more speculative, they won't be modeled in its resource portfolio model.

For example, widespread use of large-scale, low-cost storage technologies that aren't available today will likely be needed to complement wind and solar generation in potential low or no carbon future scenarios. For energy efficiency, emerging technologies such as heat pumps for water and space heating that use carbon dioxide as a refrigerant are being considered. These systems can be two to three times more efficient than today's heat pumps, but are just now being introduced into the U.S. market.

Upcoming webinar on generating resources.

More information on energy efficiency issues for the power plan.


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.


Upper Columbia tribes draft work plan for salmon reintroduction

posted Jan 16, 2015

Grand Coulee Dam under construction, mid-1930s.

The Spokane-based Upper Columbia United Tribes organization (UCUT) is seeking comments on its draft work plan to study the feasibility of reintroducing salmon and steelhead to areas of the upper Columbia River in the United States that are blocked to fish passage by Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee Dams. The plan would implement a priority portion of the Council’s 2014 Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program that calls for such a study.

Chief Joseph Dam, completed in 1955, is at river mile 545 just upstream from the mouth of the Okanagon River. Grand Coulee, completed in 1941, is 51 miles upstream. Neither dam has fish-passage facilities.

At the January Council, UCUT chair Matt Wynne, who also is chair of the Spokane Tribe of Indians, UCUT director DR Michel, a member of the Colville Confederated Tribes, and fisheries consultant Steve Smith briefed the Council on the draft work plan. Following direction in the Council’s program, the UCUT plan would be implemented in a series of phases, with the first phase being a feasibility study. It would likely include an investigation of existing data on fish passage at high-head dams, potential donor stocks of salmon, and related matters. Consistent with the program, the UCUT hope to finish Phase One by the end of 2016.

Wynne noted it has been 75 years since the Spokane Tribe had salmon in its homeland.

“Restoring salmon goes so much farther than just fish; it is important economically and culturally, too,” he said. “I feel in my heart this is the thing that could help our kids understand their own culture more.”



"The Objectives Process" begins

posted Dec 11, 2014

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