Energy Efficiency as a Reliable Resource

posted Jun 28, 2016


Energy efficiency is the second largest resource in the Northwest, trailing only hydropower. A critical component of being a resource is knowing that the savings are real and can be counted on to meet our needs as reliably as water through the dam. That’s where evaluation and the role of the Regional Technical Forum comes into play.

The Northwest has had a long history of regional collaboration around power planning and promoting energy efficiency as a resource. In the earliest days of efficiency, many of the region’s programs were designed and evaluated at the Bonneville Power Administration. In the mid-1990s, there was a shift toward a decentralized approach, the rationale being that each market and utility service territory was unique, which would allow utilities to develop their own programs better tailored to their needs. With the benefits of flexibility, however, came concerns that a decentralized approach might reduce our ability to reliably and consistently quantify this resource. Out of this need, the Council and Bonneville created the RTF to fill that role for the region.

For the past 17 years, the RTF has been a key player helping utilities evaluate and verify energy efficiency opportunities. The RTF is 30 experts, with a variety of backgrounds, including program planning, implementation, and evaluation. As a body,the RTF weighs the facts and provides independent judgment on how much a utility can count on measures to reliably save energy. Having this group of outside experts analyzing data and making judgments on reliability eases the conversation between regulators and utilities. Regulators like it when utilities use RTF values and utilities save money because the RTF simplifies their evaluation of a measure.

The RTF isn’t a replacement for research. When the RTF determines that more data are needed to develop a reliable estimate, it will identify the data needs to guide future research. Ideally, this will lead to leveraging research from one utility to inform the regional estimate, helping limited research dollars go further.

Since 1978, the Northwest has saved over 5,800 average megawatts — enough to power five Seattles — meeting 57 percent of the region’s load growth over that period. As new opportunities to save energy emerge, the RTF will be there to help ensure that we’re accurately counting those savings.

Join the conversation at LinkedIn.

(see full story)

Fish And Warm Water Don't Mix

posted Jun 20, 2016

Heat-stressed sockeye in the Little White Salmon River, a Columbia tributary, 2015. Seattle Times photo.

Federal and state fisheries managers are watching the weather carefully, and a bit nervously, this year, hoping the summer of 2016 won’t be a repeat of the disastrous summer of 2015 when hot weather led to extreme water temperatures in the Columbia River and its tributaries and the deaths of more than a quarter million fish, most of them summer-migrating sockeye salmon. Agency representatives discussed their emergency preparations with the Council at a meeting last week.

About a half million sockeye returned from the ocean last June and July, but more than half died as they migrated in the spa-like river, particularly in the 146 miles between Bonneville and McNary dams on the Columbia. The forecast sockeye return this year is much smaller – 101,000 fish -- but it could be higher. The run so far is above the number counted this time last year, and river water so far has been cool – below 68 degrees.

Most fish managers agree that problems begin to occur when water temperatures reach about 65 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat not only stresses fish metabolism but also increases the growth of pathogens that lead to fish diseases. Continued exposure to water temperatures over 68 degrees usually is fatal.

 In places, Columbia River water was in the 70s and the Okanagon River, a major sockeye tributary, was close to 80 degrees. Only about 10 percent of the returning Snake River sockeye, an endangered species, lived to spawn, and some of those were trucked from Lower Granite Dam to a hatchery.

If temperatures rise again this summer, more fish will likely die, but fish and dam managers are ready to respond quickly and have a rapid-response plan to coordinate actions. Options include releasing cold water from upriver storage reservoirs like Grand Coulee and Dwoshak dams, temporary suspensions of fishing seasons, and piping cold water from deep below the surface into adult fish ladders to attract fish and help them pass the big dams.

(see full story)

Going, going, almost gone

posted Jun 7, 2016


After a particularly voracious spring, most of the sea lions that catch and kill salmon and steelhead at the base of Bonneville Dam, 146 miles inland from the ocean, finally have moved on, presumably to the California coast where they breed this time of year.

In its sixth and final status report for the 2016 monitoring season, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported this week on its cumulative observations at the dam from January 1 through May 31.

During the last two weeks of May, sea lions steadily moved out of the area, according to the report. The number of California sea lions observed on a single day peaked on May 4 at 66 and had declined to just one by the end of the month. The number of the larger Steller sea lions peaked at 54, also on May 4, and their numbers also had rapidly declined through the end of the month. The combined total on May 4 – 120 – beat the previous single-day record at the dam, 116 on April 22 last year.

As the sea lions left, the number of observed fish catches declined, too. The January-though-May total was 4,094 Chinook salmon and 102 steelhead. Observations cannot be made 24 hours a day so the estimated total, expanded to account for those hours when observers were not present, is 8,986 fish. The Corps estimates California sea lions took 6,267 of these (71 percent), and Stellers took 2,459 (29 percent).

The expanded total represents about 5.5 percent of the estimated salmon and steelhead migration and also is about double the recent 10-year average catch, the Corps reported.

There also were 231 observed lamprey catches, 191 by California sea lions and 40 by Stellers, and an estimated 86 sturgeon catches. The sturgeon predation was much below the 10-year average.

Boat-based hazing by Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission began on March 7 and finished for the year on May 16th. Dam-based hazing by the USDA began on March 8 and ran through May 31. Sea lion management activities by the states of Oregon and Washington concluded at Bonneville on May 24. A total of 59 of the most aggressive California sea lions were removed in 2016 under a federal permit. A total of 50 California sea lions were branded at Bonneville in 2016 for future identification.

(see full story)

Tom Eckman Testifies at Hearing on DOE Energy Efficiency Standards

posted Jun 6, 2016


Council power division director, Tom Eckman, testified on June 10 at a House Energy and Power Subcommittee hearing on the impacts of the Department of Energy's efficiency standards for home appliances.

The Obama administration's Climate Action Plan makes energy efficiency of appliances and buildings a key means to reducing 3 billion metric tons of CO2 by 2030. The DOE has already finalized energy conservation standards for 29 categories of appliances and equipment, as well as a building code determination for commercial buildings. These measures will also cut consumers' annual electricity bills by billions of dollars.

But some lawmakers oppose the efficiency rules. According to the Environment & Energy Daily, "Some members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have criticized DOE's rulemaking process as costly and bureaucratic."

Eckman made the case for energy efficiency standards as an effective and low-cost tool to not only reduce electricity consumption and consumers' bills, but also to reduce carbon emissions. His best example was the Northwest's success in acquiring energy efficiency, which is the region's second largest resource, annually reducing 22 million tons of carbon, and saving ratepayers about $3.78 billion for electricity.

(see full story)

Early Warning System

posted May 27, 2016


Unprecedented high water temperatures in the Columbia River Basin last summer are spurring unprecedented cooperation this year among the federal and state agencies, and tribes, that manage rivers, dams, and the fish whose survival is affected.

In response to lethally warm water that contributed to the deaths of salmon, sturgeon and probably other fish year last year, an effort is underway this year to improve data-sharing and accelerate decision-making – in essence, create an early-warning system -- if the summer of 2016 is a repeat of conditions in 2015.

And it might be.

Water temperature monitoring shows that the trend this year is similar to the trend last year – above average and rising – and that the ocean environment is increasingly unfavorable for cold-water species like salmon and steelhead. Scientists have documented that the so-called "blob" of warm water in the north Pacific has moved eastward into the near-shore area off the Northwest coast.

In this figure from the Fish Passage Center (, the red (2015) and blue (2016) river temperatures are well above the 10-year average through May 30. The dotted line is 68 degrees.

Last week more than 30 representatives of fish and dam management entities met via conference call to talk about how to organize and be ready if there is another temperature emergency. After two hours of discussion these short-term and longer-term topic areas emerged for further discussion:

  • Consider setting a water temperature trigger for emergency actions, and set it below the lethal limit of 68 degrees so that fish aren’t on the edge of catastrophe before options are discussed. Such a system is in place in the Klamath River Basin in southern Oregon and Northwestern California, and it works well.
  • Improve coordination and communication through existing committees that oversee river conditions and advise on fish-passage actions, such as the Fish Passage Advisory Committee
  • Document the locations of cool-water refuges where migrating fish such as adult salmon and steelhead can reside temporarily when water temperatures are high
  • Positon mobile laboratories along river corridors to be able to respond quickly to assess dead fish and determine causes of death and the effects of temperature
  • Close fisheries and reduce irrigation withdrawals in tributaries when conditions are lethal in order to protect fish and keep cool water in streams
  • Longer term, overlay climate-change models with the location of fish kills to improve the ability to forecast where and how often low flows and high temperatures might affect fish, then develop place-specific mitigation plans
  • Conduct additional temperature monitoring in rivers and in fish ladders

The group plans to meet again to discuss how to further improve communication and coordination among the many entities and data sources.

(see full story)

In the (Efficient) Spotlight

posted Apr 25, 2016

The Mystery of Swan Lake

posted Apr 13, 2016

A boost for northern pike removal

posted Apr 13, 2016

They're back, and they're hungry

posted Mar 23, 2016

Warm ocean, small salmon: Why?

posted Mar 7, 2016

Seventh Power Plan Homestretch

posted Dec 15, 2015

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