BPA Administrator Praises Energy Efficiency, Says Cost Review Will Keep Agency Competitive

posted Nov 20, 2015

BPA Administrator Elliot Mainzer

Elliot Mainzer, administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration, the region’s largest electricity wholesaler and the agency that directs millions of dollars annually to improve energy efficiency in the Northwest and boost fish and wildlife survival in the Columbia River Basin, had a clear message for the Northwest Power and Conservation Council at its November meeting:

It’s time to take a hard look at Bonneville’s fish, wildlife, and energy budgets to make sure the agency continues to fund initiatives that “give us real impact” and look for ways to potentially “trim tabs” on those that do not. To that end, Bonneville recently began a public process, called BPA Focus 2028, to explore how energy industry changes will affect Bonneville and the strategic choices the agency may face in the future to remain financially strong and competitive.

Mainzer sees the Council as an important partner in that process. Under federal law, the Bonneville administrator is required to make decisions about future energy supplies and mitigating the impacts of hydropower dams on fish and wildlife that are consistent with the Council’s Northwest Power Plan and Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program. He said he is pleased with the Council’s work on the Seventh Power Plan, the region’s energy efficiency accomplishments, and progress in improving fish survival at the federal dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers, which provide the bulk of the electricity Bonneville sells.

But he also said the Focus 2028 conversation, which will include and affect electric utilities and fish and wildlife agencies, tribes, and others throughout the Northwest, will be difficult, but one that must occur.

“The central focus of the 2028 Dialogue is the thesis that in order for Bonneville to meet its multiple statutory and public-purpose objectives we have to have a financially strong and cost-competitive organization,” he said. “Without that, we really can’t do the things we need to do and that people expect us to do.”

He said he sees the possibility of cost savings in Bonneville’s energy efficiency and fish and wildlife budgets. Regarding fish and wildlife, he said the Focus 2028 process provides the opportunity to “take a look, particularly, at some of the research, monitoring and evaluation dollars and ask ourselves if we can free up some working capital to be able to better accommodate some of the emerging priorities, and also to make sure that the dollars we are spending are being spent as efficiently as we possibly can.” Bonneville’s own budget will be scrutinized, too, he said: “We are looking at our own internal operations, our budgeting processes, our finances, the way we carry reserves, and all of these things.”

“I want to reaffirm the importance of our partnership during these really challenging times,” he said. “There is so much industry change going on right now, and we are working to position ourselves for long-term success. That’s really my theme for my time as administrator.”

California's "Duck Curve" and What It Means for the Northwest

posted Nov 20, 2015


California, with one of the most ambitious renewable programs in the country, increased its renewable portfolio standard in September from 33 percent to 50 percent by the end of 2030. The legislation to increase the state's RPS also made it possible for outside parties to participate in its electricity market, and several Northwest investor-owned utilities have already announced their intention to do that. PacifiCorp is considering full participation in the California ISO.

Solar generation, in particular, has flourished in the state. Grid operator data shows that solar generation can be as much as 19 percent of California's electricity supply on a typical afternoon. Large-scale solar projects from utilities have grown to about 7,000 megawatts in 2015, while rooftop panels on houses and businesses now supply as much as 3,000 megawatts, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

This huge amount of renewable generation has prompted concerns about how to balance the system, a problem dramatically illustrated in the well-publicized "duck curve" chart.

The chart illustrates solar generation as it grows during the day, with the potential for overgeneration, to when the sun goes down and people come home from work and electricity use goes up.

At its November meeting, staff presented its assessment of how the Northwest may be affected by the situation in California. 

If Northwest utilities join the California ISO, renewable projects in their territories would be eligible to meet California's RPS, and more renewables could be developed in the Northwest. Market prices in the Northwest could go down as a result of the increased supply from the additional resources inside and outside the region.

On the one hand, overgeneration would depress the price of electricity. But there could also be an opportunity for the Northwest to sell power to California to help meet their load when solar generation drops off as the sun goes down.

There are several studies underway to try and get a more accurate picture of the situation, and the Council expects to know more about how the region could be affected next year. For now, it doesn't change the resource strategy in the draft Seventh Power Plan. The Council will review the issue in its mid-term assessment of the power plan.


California's New Energy Law Sets the Stage for Solar Power Growth

Investigating a 50 Percent Renewable Portfolio Standard in California







Northwest Energy Savings Now Second Largest Resource

posted Nov 20, 2015


In 2014, Pacific Northwest utilities developed 262 average megawatts of new energy savings, enough to power 180,000 homes each year, adding to the region’s impressive track record in achieving energy efficiency. Between 2010 through 2014, the cumulative savings of 1,500 average megawatts exceeded the target of 1,200 average megawatts set in the Council’s Sixth Power Plan

Since 1978, when regional investments in energy efficiency began, utility-funded programs, combined with improved building codes and federal efficiency standards, have saved almost 5,800 average megawatts, enough power for five cities the size of Seattle. It has met 57 percent of our load growth, and today, it’s the second largest resource in the Northwest after hydropower.

The Council estimates that these accumulated savings have saved consumers nearly $3.73 billion and lowered carbon emissions by 22.2 million metric tons. 

By building energy efficiency, we avoid the need to build new power plants and the carbon emissions they produce. Electricity bills are lower because developing efficiency is four to five times less expensive than the cost of new power plants. Unlike power plants, which have ongoing costs for fuel and operation, once the efficiency improvements are installed they deliver benefits year after year with no ongoing costs. 

“We all benefit from these savings in the form of lower energy bills and lower carbon emissions,” Council Chair Phil Rockefeller said. “It’s been a critical strategy in preserving our quality of life in the Northwest.” 

The energy savings information was compiled by the Regional Technical Forum, an advisory committee to the Council that develops standards to verify and evaluate energy efficiency savings. The RTF conducts an annual survey of utilities, system benefits administrators, the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, and the Bonneville Power Administration on their efficiency expenditures and savings. 

According to the survey, most of the savings came from homes through such things as replacing incandescent light bulbs with more efficient LED or compact fluorescent bulbs, improving home insulation, and purchasing new energy efficient appliances. Energy savings also occur in businesses and industries through installing more efficient lights, motors, pumps, furnaces, and other equipment, and also through improving HVAC systems in buildings. 

The report on efficiency achievements comes as the Council is hearing from the region on its draft Seventh Power Plan. The draft plan finds that cost-effective energy efficiency could meet all load growth through 2035.

The Battle Against Northern Pike Intensifies In Lake Roosevelt

posted Nov 18, 2015

A 15-pound Northern pike caught in the Columbia River near Kettle Falls, May 2015. Photo: Spokesman-Review

The campaign to halt the proliferation of Northern pike in Lake Roosevelt, the reservoir behind Grand Coulee Dam, is intensifying, state and tribal fish biologists reported to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council in November.

First detected in the northern end of the 150-mile-long reservoir in 2009 and still confined to that area, the aggressive predator species appears to be breeding and the population, still small, steadily growing. Pike are voracious and can grow to more than 30 pounds and a meter in length.

Brent Nichols, fisheries manager of the Spokane Tribe of Indians, told the Council’s Fish and Wildlife Committee at a meeting in Portland that five days of research fishing in June using set nets confirmed the growing numbers. Of 138 fish caught in the nets, 21 were northern pike, and these fish represented two distinct age classes with fish weighing between a pound and eight pounds. Analysis of their stomach contents showed that about 60 percent of their diet was trout and whitefish.

That is bad news for the Spokane and Colville tribes, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), which raise trout and kokanee for the substantial recreational fishery in the lake.

“What they prefer to eat is what we don’t want them to eat,” Nichols said.

While pike have the potential to disrupt fisheries and impact native fish species in Lake Roosevelt, a more dire consequence is the impact pike could have on salmon and steelhead downriver, including more than a dozen threatened and endangered species. Predation by pike also could set back electricity ratepayer-funded efforts to restore fish runs and enhance fisheries throughout the Columbia River Basin if the Lake Roosevelt population grows and fish pass over Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams.

The pike population in Lake Roosevelt today is about where the pike population was in the Pend Oreille River, a Columbia tributary, about a decade ago. That population boomed, and the Kalispel Tribe and WDFW have been working aggressively, and so far successfully, to reduce their numbers.

“We probably waited too long in the Pend Oreille,” Chris Donley, WDFW’s eastern region fish program manager, told the committee. “Now is the time to get a handle on this in Lake Roosevelt.”

WDFW and Spokane Tribe plan to accelerate their work in Lake Roosevelt in 2016 to include, for example, radio telemetry studies to track the movements of large pike and implement a reward program for anglers to remove pike from the lake.

“Lake Roosevelt is beginning to show signs of real problems,” Fish and Wildlife Committee Chair Bill Bradbury said. “This could turn into a disaster for the Northwest. Or, we could get a handle on this now.”

Scientist: Begin Preparing Now For Climate Change Impacts Along The Lower Columbia River

posted Oct 16, 2015

The Columbia has been warming steadily for more than 70 years. Chart: Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership

As the climate warms and polar ice continues to melt, sea levels will rise and estuary shorelines, including those along the lower Columbia River, will be inundated. Whether that’s a little or a lot is a matter of speculation, of course, but right now is a good time to start thinking about what the lower river will look like in, say, 50 to 100 years and how people, fish, wildlife, and communities will adapt.

The Council is taking up that issue in its 2014 Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program, which includes as one of its “emerging program priorities” a directive to account for the potential impacts of climate change on projects that implement the program. The estuary is an obvious place where the effects of rising sea levels will be evident, and that also is an area where the program is implemented in projects that protect and improve shoreline habitat for migrating juvenile salmon and steelhead. Over time, the very places that are being improved today for fish could be underwater, perhaps permanently, before the end of the century.

What then? What should be done now to be ready for the future?

At its October meeting, the Council heard from Catherine Corbett, chief scientist at the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership (LCEP) about the issue. Corbett and LCEP have been thinking a lot about the lower Columbia and climate change.

Corbett said research by LCEP and others points to some clear conclusions and recommendations, including:

  • We need to look beyond the current shorelines when we think about restoring and improving wetland habitats, migrating these areas farther inland because someday our current inland areas are likely to be a lot closer to the main channel of the river.
  • The river is likely to continue a warming trend that has been ongoing for decades, as snowpack decreases, runoff comes out of the mountains earlier in the year, and flow volumes continue to decline in the summer months – as was evident this year in July and August when the superheated (for fish) Columbia was blamed for the deaths of a quarter million sockeye and about 20 percent of the harvestable-age sturgeon in the river. Cold water refugia – the mouths of cold-water streams flowing into the river – will become increasingly important for migrating fish, and likely refugia are being evaluated now in the Columbia River Gorge.
  • We need to identify those areas that are likely to be flooded – agricultural land, urban areas, shoreline and inland habitats -- and determine where new or improved dikes will be needed and where areas can be left open for the benefit of fish and wildlife, and habitat restored or created.

Corbett’s presentation to the Council and a Council staff memo can be viewed here.

Touring Baker Dam

posted Jul 8, 2015

Forest Fires and Fish Habitat

posted May 19, 2015

This Plan Is Your Plan

posted Apr 30, 2015

Lunch and Learn With the Council

posted Mar 31, 2015

Scenario Analysis Begins

posted Feb 11, 2015

Scenario Analysis Is Coming!

posted Jan 22, 2015

"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

BPA Energy Efficiency Funding

posted Mar 12, 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