Northwest Energy Future: Efficient, Low-cost, Low Carbon

posted Jun 12, 2015


Preliminary modeling results indicate that the future of electric power in the Northwest is efficient, low-cost, low-carbon, and reliable. In fact, energy efficiency may meet nearly all new load growth for the next 20 years.

That’s the message from the latest preliminary results of the Council’s early scenario analysis modeling using its Regional Portfolio Model, which estimates the regional costs and risks associated with pursuing resource development strategies. Results from the model will be used to inform the components of the resource strategy in the Seventh Northwest Power Plan, which should be completed by the end of 2015.

In the latest round of modeling, the Council’s power planning staff looked at three scenarios across 800 possible futures. The first removed all uncertainty so that resources are selected with perfect knowledge of such variables as load growth, natural gas prices and water conditions. The second, and more realistic scenario, tested resource strategies across a wide range of load growth, wholesale electricity market prices, natural gas costs and water conditions. This scenario reflected current energy policy, but assumed no incremental cost or limits on future carbon emissions. The third scenario is identical to the second, except that it modeled uncertainty in the future cost of carbon emissions ranging from zero to $110 per metric ton. Highlights from the preliminary results include:

  • An estimated 3,800-4,500 average megawatts of energy efficiency are cost-effective to be developed over the 20-year planning horizon.
  • Net regional load stays essentially flat for the 20-year planning period as long as the energy efficiency is achieved.
  • While energy efficiency meets nearly all load growth, new generating plants may be needed beginning around 2026, primarily to replace retiring coal plants.
  • Demand response, which means voluntarily reducing power consumption during periods of peak demand, is selected by the model to meet winter peaking capacity requirements. Demand response resources are being selected by the model because they come in smaller increments, have shorter lead times, and are lower cost than thermal resources.
  • Only about 900 megawatts of renewable energy capacity (300 average megawatts of energy), is developed, mostly after 2026. “This development is not to offset carbon but because the second phases of some states’ renewable portfolio standards come into play and there’s not enough renewable energy credits in the bank to cover them,” Power Planning Director Tom Eckman said.

Dry-year Dam Operations Implemented To Protect Fish

posted Jun 10, 2015

Basinwide, precipitation is predicted to continue below normal through the summer.

The low runoff in the Columbia River Basin in 2015 doesn’t portend a crisis for hydropower, which is a good thing because dams in the basin provide nearly half of the electricity consumed in the Northwest. Nor is the below-average runoff from a meager snowpack creating problems for salmon and steelhead, thanks to a water-release strategy for the Columbia and Snake rivers that is implemented in dry years.

The Biological Opinion on Operations of the Federal Columbia River Power System, prepared by federal agencies to protect Endangered Species Act-listed salmon and steelhead, includes a “dry-year strategy” to boost river flows to assist migration of juvenile and adult fish, including listed species. Federal agency representatives of the Bonneville Power Administration, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, and NOAA Fisheries briefed the Council this week in Coeur d’Alene.

Dry year operations are implemented when the Northwest River Forecast Center, a division of the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, predicts in May that the April-through-August runoff volume at The Dalles Dam will be less than 72.2 million acre-feet, or less than 82 percent of average. The May forecast for the period was 62.4 million acre-feet, or 71 percent of average.

When dry year operations are triggered, federal storage reservoirs are drawn down farther than normal to provide more water for fish. The usual practice is to shift as much water as possible into the spring migration, with the understanding that this likely will increase the risk of having less stored water for temperature control and to refill reservoirs in the summer. More than half of the estimated 8 million acre-feet of flow augmentation for this spring and summer is being provided from reservoirs in British Columbia under the Columbia River Treaty and the Non-Treaty Storage Agreement, said Tony Norris, operations research analyst for the Bonneville Power Administration.

The additional water provided this year should result in average or near-average travel times downriver for juvenile salmon and steelhead, Ritchie Graves of NOAA Fisheries said. While flows are below objectives in the Biological Opinion,” that is expected in a dry year,” Graves said. And flows are extremely low – 51st out of the 55 lowest-flow years on record, he said.

“The bottom line for us is that we care about migration timing because fish that arrive later to the ocean generally return in lower numbers as adults than fish that arrive earlier,” Graves said. “We’re eager to see how fish respond to the hydrosystem conditions this year.”

While 2015 is a dry, low-flow year, “it’s not unprecedented,” said Steve Barton, chief of the Columbia Basin Water Management Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Barton said that while the low water is not causing any unusual navigation problems in the river, it will be “a bit challenging” to meet the many requirements for special flows and river operations through the summer.

The last time the dry year criteria was triggered was in 2010. If the current dryness continues into 2016 or later, “I’m confident we could handle it,” Barton said.

Delta Project Will Restore Habitat, Prevent Erosion In Lake Pend Oreille

posted Jun 9, 2015


The Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) is working to protect the Clark Fork River Delta, an important riparian and wetland habitat for fish and birds in Lake Pend Oreille, from the effects of erosion caused by the operations of two dams, one upstream on the Clark Fork River and the other at the outlet of the lake.

Speaking at the June meeting of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council in Coeur d’Alene, IDFG regional supervisor Chip Corsi said the goal of the restoration project is to protect areas vulnerable to erosion while improving and diversifying key riparian and wetland habitats to restore ecological function in the delta. This is being done by protecting existing areas within the delta from further erosion using environmentally compatible stabilization methods, and restoring and enhancing the edge and interior areas of the delta by increasing habitat complexity with large woody debris and planting diverse types of native vegetation including black cottonwood, dogwood, and willow; and removing non-native invasive reed canarygrass.

The first phase of the project, which includes planting about 100,000 native shrubs and trees, is nearing completion. In all, the project will convert approximately 169 acres of mudflat or lake bottom to usable habitat while reducing the potential for future erosion.

 “This project is a gem, one that is preserving an important environment and one that has enjoyed the dedication and determination of a diverse group of partners, including local, tribal, and federal governments, as well as support from electric utilities, citizen groups, and lake property owners,” said Bill Booth, an Idaho member of the Council who helped organize and coordinate the project.

The Clark Fork River delta connects mountain ranges near the lake, providing nutrient and sediment transport, improving water quality, and providing essential cover and feeding areas for migrating and breeding songbirds, waterbirds, waterfowl, raptors, and numerous other wildlife species. The delta also is culturally important to the Kalispel, Kootenai, Coeur d’Alene, and Salish and Kootenai tribes, and to communities in the area.

Partners in the project with IDFG include the Council, Bonneville Power Administration, Avista Utilities, operator of Cabinet Gorge Dam on the Clark Fork River; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, operator of Albeni Falls Dam at the outlet of the lake; Ducks Unlimited, the Kalispel Tribe, and others including nearby communities.

Catch and Kill: Trying to Reduce Northern Pike in Lake Roosevelt

posted Jun 9, 2015

Kalispel Tribe photo.

Northern pike, a voracious predator, are migrating into the upper Columbia River from the north and east, posing a threat to state and tribal efforts to protect and restore native sturgeon and trout species in Lake Roosevelt, the reservoir behind Grand Coulee Dam. Tribes and state fish and wildlife agencies, joined by their counterparts in British Columbia, are mounting an assault on the big fish – they can grow to more than 30 pounds and a meter in length – hoping to halt their spread before they do real damage to recreational and tribal fisheries in the lake, and possibly farther downriver.

Pike probably can’t be eliminated, but they can be managed and the population reduced significantly, Joe Maroney, Director of Fishery and Water Resources for the Kalispel Tribe, said. He added metaphorically, “we’re going to be continually mowing the grass, trying to keep it as short as possible, and we are approaching that.”

Northern pike, an introduced non-native species, were detected in Box Canyon Reservoir on the Pend Oreille River in 2004, probably having migrated downstream from Lake Pend Oreille. Pike also are present in Lake Coeur d’Alene, whose outlet is the Spokane River; in British Columbia downstream of Keenleyside Dam; and in Montana.

The Kalispel Tribe, whose reservation borders the Pend Oreille River in Washington, has documented exponential growth of the population from 400 adult fish in 2006 to 5,500 in 2010, along with an expansion of their range within the river.

Pike were first detected in Lake Roosevelt, the reservoir behind Grand Coulee Dam, in 2009, and they are not welcome, as they prey on salmonids that are being raised for fisheries and restoration purposes. Their preference for salmonids is not good news for Lake Roosevelt, where rainbow trout, mountain whitefish, and kokanee – all salmonids -- made up 76 percent of the pike diet in the reservoir in one study. Significant investments in fish restoration in the Columbia and Pend Oreille rivers are aimed at salmonids.

Fishery managers in British Columbia and Washington began working to suppress pike in 2012. Pike are popular with recreational fishers; there is no catch limit in Idaho or Washington. So far the best fishing, and therefore the highest concentration of pike, has been in the Columbia near Kettle Falls, and in its Kettle River tributary.

The Council is concerned about the proliferation of northern pike because of the potential to disrupt and set back ongoing electricity ratepayer-funded efforts to restore fish runs and enhance fisheries throughout the Columbia River Basin. If the downstream migration continues, pike could threaten salmon and steelhead recovery and reintroduction efforts downstream of Chief Joseph Dam.

“My big concern is sockeye at the mouth of the Okanagan River,” Maroney said. “You should be afraid, very afraid,” he said, half jokingly. “You don’t need to study them to death. If you find them, you need to kill them. Time is of the essence.”

NOAA Fisheries Will Investigate Salmon Reintroduction Into Blocked Areas

posted Jun 2, 2015

In a warming world, climate change will alter lowland salmon habitat, encouraging fish to spawn in higher elevations, and so reintroducing salmon into higher-elevation habitat where their passage is now blocked by dams will be critical to their survival, the Pacific Northwest regional director of NOAA Fisheries said at a salmon recovery conference last month.

Speaking at the biennial conference of the Washington Salmon Recovery Funding Board in Vancouver, Will Stelle said NOAA is interested in reintroducing salmon into the upper Klamath River in southern Oregon, the upper Sacramento River in northern California above Shasta Dam, where the Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the dam, “is right with us,” he said, and into the upper Columbia River above Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams.

“Climate change is going to come home to roost in the lower elevations, and it’s going to come home to roost in the upper elevations in the way we manage our aquatic systems,” Stelle told the audience of about 700. “And as we are mindful of that, we have to rethink reintroductions. We have got to go upstream, and we have got to open up access to habitat upstream, and we have to get fish upstream because that is going to be their refugia in a changing world.”

He said he’s not worried that reintroduction is not possible: “We’re going to be able to do it because we’ve done it before,” he said, adding that the Columbia River effort would be coordinated with Canada under the renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty.


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