Understanding the Council's Regional Portfolio Model

posted Feb 24, 2015


The Council's regional portfolio model, which it uses to test different resource strategies against a range of potential futures, is in the final stages in its redevelopment. It's expected to be ready to use by the end of March.

Several upcoming meetings will give stakeholders and the public an opportunity to learn more about the technical details of the model, how it works, how the results from the model are interpreted, and how it can address specific policy questions.

The Council's system analysis advisory committee, whose members are technical experts, reviews the Council's models, providing advice on their development. It will be meeting on March 27 and April 23. A more high-level group, the resource strategies advisory committee, will also discuss the model at its March 12 meeting. And, the Council will be meeting on March 10-11 in Eugene to discuss the status of the Seventh Power Plan. All meetings are open to the public. 

Objectives Process Continues with NOAA as Partner

posted Feb 18, 2015

Developing goals and objectives involves measuring the quality of spawning and rearing habitat.

The Council and NOAA Fisheries, the federal agency that implements the Endangered Species Act for Columbia River salmon and steelhead, are compiling existing quantitative goals and objectives for fish recovery and considering how to measure progress toward protecting and restoring fish species.

At the Council’s February meeting, Barry Thom, deputy regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries, laid out a four-step process for what he described as a conceptual approach for developing goals for listed and unlisted Columbia River Basin salmon and steelhead.

The first step involves collecting information about all of the distinct salmon and steelhead populations, including quantitative goals and objectives in documents such as the Council’s subbasin plans, and ESA, state, and tribal fish-recovery plans. This would also include assessing natural and hatchery production, natural escapement, and fisheries harvest. Subsequent steps would determine what it would take to reach these goals.

“It’s important to align various regional goals that address ESA, tribal treaty and trust obligations, the state fish and wildlife mandates, and other needs,” Thom said. “We believe we can increase our chances of success regarding conservation and fishing opportunities through better coordination, and with better accountability.”

Discussions about the collaborative approach were initiated by the Council in January. Thom said they provide an opportunity to better understand how to increase fish abundance, distribution, and diversity over time while meeting existing goals and objectives. He said he hoped that the Council and others will support developing a charter for a steering committee representing state, federal, and tribal governments to oversee the next steps of the proposed collaborative process. Ideally, work on this next step would begin in the early spring so that the regional discussions could begin by the summer.

Tony Grover, the Council’s fish and wildlife director, said the Council’s 2014 fish and wildlife program calls for completing a report on existing goals and objectives similar to NOAA’s proposed first step. While that may take longer, working with the region’s fish managers and others will make it more complete, he said.

Preliminary Analysis of Generating Resources

posted Feb 18, 2015


An important element in developing the Seventh Power Plan is a review of the characteristics of generating resources that could be used to meet the region's future electricity needs. The Council assesses the operation and costs of power plants currently in service and forecasts future trends.

At the Council's power committee meeting in February, Council staff presented their preliminary findings for the draft Seventh Power Plan and provided a comparison with the assumptions made in the Sixth Power Plan. The types of resources most likely to be built over the plan's 20-year planning horizon are natural gas combined-cycle plants, gas peakers (single-cycle turbines and reciprocating engines), wind, and solar photovoltaic (PV). Other commercially available resources, including geothermal, hydropower, biomass, and energy storage technologies, could play an important, though more limited role.

Natural gas combined-cycle plants are expected to continue playing a significant role as a dispatchable baseload power supply thanks to a robust infrastructure tapping into gas sources in the U.S. and Canada.

Gas peaking plants, both single-cycle and reciprocating engine, are likely to be built to help meet peak loads and keep the system in balance. With growing wind and solar development, gas peakers are becoming more important to help integrate variable generation into the power system.

Since 2000, the Northwest has installed about 7,500 megawatts (capacity) of wind energy. Although development slowed down after 2012 because of uncertainty over the availability of federal incentives and utilities reaching their near-term renewable portfolio standard goals, it's expected to ramp up as utilities focus on their 2020 goals.

Montana is becoming more attractive as a high wind resource state because its generation is winter peaking compared to the spring/fall peaking in the Columbia Gorge. Montana wind also receives a higher capacity factor for its wind production, so upgrading and building transmission to the west continues to be under discussion.

The biggest surprise is the decreasing cost of utility-scale solar PV. While it has a limited presence here, activity has picked up in southern Idaho, which may be the best location for solar in the Northwest. Although its output varies seasonally, if costs continue to decline, it could become an important renewable resource for the region.

The preliminary staff analysis also includes a comparison of the levelized cost of energy across the candidate resources. Surprisingly, utility solar PV moved up considerably from the Sixth Plan's analysis to second place behind natural gas combined-cycle plants. Montana wind, using the existing limited transmission capacity, was next, followed by Columbia Basin wind. The most expensive first tier resources were gas peaking plants.


Goose Island Terns Consumed Fewer Fish in 2014

posted Feb 17, 2015


Predation by Caspian terns on juvenile salmon and steelhead is a problem in the Columbia River estuary, but that’s not the only place. It’s also a problem in the mid-Columbia area of central Washington, where it's causing the Grant County Public Utility District to fail to meet a survival standard for juvenile steelhead at its two hydroelectric dams, Priest Rapids and Wanapum. Upper Columbia steelhead are listed as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act.

It’s both ironic and frustrating, Grant PUD officials told the Council at a meeting this month in Portland. Frustrating because the PUD does not have bird-management authority, and ironic because juvenile steelhead survival at the dams is excellent. While the utility meets the survival standard for upper Columbia spring Chinook, also an endangered species, the utility misses the standard for steelhead because the birds pick off so many fish in the river.

In response, Grant is paying $2 million per year into a mitigation fund to support federal agencies as they work to address the predation problem, primarily through techniques to prevent the birds from nesting.

“We could spend a lot more at the concrete and not increase survival,” said Chuck Berrie, Grant PUD assistant general manager. “Focusing on avian predation is the single most important and cost-effective thing we can do to reduce the impacts on endangered species of fish.”

Caspian terns nesting on Goose Island in Potholes Reservoir, which is east of the Columbia near Moses Lake, Washington, annually consume an average of 15.7 percent of the ESA-listed steelhead smolts (and 2.5 percent of upper Columbia spring Chinook smolts) as they migrate down the river to the ocean. Efforts to discourage nesting in 2014 were encouraging. Fewer terns nested on Goose Island, and there was a corresponding significant reduction in predation by Goose Island terns on spring Chinook and steelhead. But as the number of nests declined on Goose Island, the number increased elsewhere in central Washington. Increased predation by terns from those colonies slightly offset benefits from the smaller Goose Island tern colony in 2014, the PUD reported.

“Terns eat fish. That’s not the problem,” said Curt Dotson, special projects manager for the utility. “The problem is they're eating an endangered species. So we need to move them to a place where they don’t impact endangered species.”

Tern habitat is being constructed by the Corps of Engineers outside the Columbia River Basin in southern Oregon and on Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge in south San Francisco Bay in California in the hope of attracting birds as they return in the spring from their wintering areas in Mexico.


Scenario Analysis Begins

posted Feb 11, 2015


At its February meeting, the Council's power committee discussed the proposed scenarios that will be used in developing its Seventh Power Plan.

The Council's regional portfolio model is the tool it uses to test different resource strategies against a wide range of potential future conditions to identify those strategies that offer the best hedge against risk at the lowest cost.

The process of comparing scenarios will help in understanding the costs of reducing power system carbon emissions, the impact of carbon costs on energy efficiency and renewable resource development, and the potential value of storage technologies.

The committee reviewed the list of proposed scenarios, focusing on the first step, which is to compare existing energy policies without carbon costs to existing policies with carbon costs. "This will help give us an idea of what the risk mitigation costs would look like," said Power Division Director Tom Eckman.

The regional portfolio model, which has been under redevelopment, should be ready to use next month. Staff expects to have information about the first step comparison by the committee's next meeting in March. The Council's Resource Strategies Advisory Committee also meets in March, and will provide input on the the analysis as well. All of the Council's meetings are open to the public; interested parties are encouraged to participate in its process to develop a regional power plan.


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

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