The Regional Value of Electric Vehicles

posted Jul 18, 2016


Improving the regional economy, reducing carbon dioxide emissions, and helping advance technology are three benefits to the region from investing in electric vehicles. While electric vehicles may not make sense for everyone, there are many instances where electric vehicles can substitute for gas-powered vehicles. 

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council discussed the economics and environmental impacts of electric vehicles at its July meeting in Olympia, Washington. 

A conservative estimate showed by 2035 we could keep $2 billion dollars per year in the region. The main savings comes from reducing the amount of gasoline that is purchased from producers outside the region. While the initial cost for an electric vehicle can be more expensive, the fuel savings more than make up for the extra expense. Electric vehicles also generally require less maintenance than gas-powered vehicles. 

Policies that encourage electric vehicles could also reduce regional carbon dioxide emissions; by 2035 4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year could be avoided by increasing electric vehicle use. 

Investing in electric vehicles also directs resources to technologies that go beyond just transportation. Battery technology is rapidly evolving, with implications for everything from devices to energy storage. 

Increasing the number of electric vehicles in the region does potentially increase the need to invest in our electric system. But the economic and environmental benefits justify that investment in our generating and transmission resources. The Council will continue to evaluate and adapt our plans to make sure our regional electric system is well prepared to respond to this evolving technology. 

Looking at the current technology and economics, policies that encourage electric vehicles already pay off. As technology improves, the value only increases, creating a win-win opportunity for our region’s consumers and utilities.

Join the discussion at LinkedIn.


Avista to begin installing electric vehicle chargers in homes, workplaces

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Reaping the Shale Natural Gas Bounty

posted Jul 15, 2016


North America is now eight years into a shale gas boom made possible through advances in technology, boosting natural gas supplies and keeping prices low.

It came at a critical time for consumers recovering from the Great Recession and high unemployment. Commercial businesses and industrial plants also benefited from the low prices, helping to keep additional cash in consumers’ wallets.

Most associate the jump in natural gas production to advances in “fracking” – hydraulic fracturing of shale to dislodge gas from the rock below. However, technological advancements in horizontal drilling and seismic imaging were also extremely important to the shale boom.

The increase in domestic natural gas drilling and production has meant that less gas is imported from countries like Canada to meet demand. In addition, exports of U.S. sourced supply are rapidly picking up, with natural gas heading from Texas down to Mexico via pipeline and liquefied natural gas shipping to world markets from export facilities in the gulf. In fact, the U.S. is expected to soon reach a milestone by becoming a net exporter of natural gas.

Some of the most striking changes have occurred in the power generation sector. Efficient natural gas-fired power generating technologies, such as combined-cycle combustion turbines, have become cheaper than coal plant generation and aging coal plants are retiring across the country. In the Northwest, our existing natural gas infrastructure, along with wind, solar, and energy efficiency, will allow for the planned retirements of coal plants here.

As for carbon dioxide, natural gas is a significantly cleaner fuel to burn than coal. In fact, according to the EIA, carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation in 2015 were the lowest since 1993 due to less coal-fired power and more natural gas and renewable power generation.

But drilling for natural gas isn’t without controversy, particularly in regions experiencing the fracking boom. Concerns about water consumption and contamination, and other pollution with oil and gas drilling, have erupted in communities in Colorado, and even Texas. And though natural gas is much cleaner than coal in terms of carbon dioxide, there are significant concerns over increases in methane leakage (raw natural gas) to the atmosphere as a result of increased gas use since methane is a powerful heat-trapping greenhouse gas.

The Northwest is not a shale-drilling region; our natural gas is brought in by pipeline from the U.S. Rockies and imported via pipeline from the Canadian Provinces of British Columbia and Alberta. 

What might unfold over the next eight years? Will the U.S. continue to ramp up natural gas exports to compete in the world market? Will demand for natural gas-fired power level off as cleaner resources like solar and wind power, electricity storage, and energy efficiency advance? Will natural gas begin to replace oil as a transportation fuel? Will prices remain low?

Stay tuned, and be part of the discussion on LinkedIn.


Presentation on Natural Gas Supply, Demand, and Prices


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Salmon Smorgasbord

posted Jul 14, 2016

Sea lion with a salmon at Bonneville Dam.

In 2010, researchers for NOAA Fisheries, the federal agency that oversees the Endangered Species Act for Columbia River Basin salmon and steelhead, began a research project to better understand what happens to the fish in the 140 miles between the ocean and Bonneville Dam when they return every spring to spawn. The number of marine mammals in the estuary, predators of adult salmon, was concerning and researchers wondered about the potential impacts.

NOAA and state fish managers in Oregon and Washington had anecdotal evidence that fish were disappearing before reaching Bonneville Dam. It wasn’t clear why, but there was suspicion that marine mammals – sea lions and harbor seals – might be responsible for some portion of the losses.

Today, with the project in its seventh year, researchers have captured and tagged more than 2,200 spring Chinook salmon and followed their migration progress from the estuary near Astoria, Oregon, up the river. Survival has varied over the years, but after accounting for harvest, annual survival has ranged from 55 to 90 percent, meaning that as many as 45 percent of the upriver fish tagged in the estuary did not arrive at Bonneville Dam during some years. Genetic testing shows that about 70 percent of the tagged fish are destined for spawning areas and hatcheries in tributaries of the Snake River and the middle and upper Columbia – including threatened species.

Coincidentally, since 2010, the population of sea lions and harbor seals in the estuary has exploded.

“Pinnipeds are probably the primary cause of this mortality, but there are possible other causes,” the lead researcher, Dr. Michelle Rub, reported to the Council recently after completion of the current year’s work. Those include fish turning into creeks in the lower Columbia to spawn, fish deaths from disease or injury, or even learned behavior – the same seals and sea lions returning year after year to the annual Columbia River salmon feast (most of the sea lions arrive in the spring and leave by summer).

But none of these is as strong a cause as predation by marine mammals, Dr. Rub said.

For example, salmon mortality increases as the population of marine mammals increases each spring. But that hasn’t been the case every year. In 2015, predation declined even with a high population of marine mammals, Rub said.

Rub said she hopes funding will be available to continue the research in future springs, as some of the recent results add to the mystery. For example, radio telemetry, which researchers began using this year, suggests that less than half of the animals follow fish farther upriver than the estuary. Installing radio tags on both salmon and marine mammals will show where predator and prey are in the river at the same time – valuable information for fishery managers.

More data from the research also will help refine models that are being developed to improve survival predictions.

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Phil Rockefeller Retires After Five Years With The Power Council

posted Jul 13, 2016

Phil Rockefeller and Council Chair Henry Lorenzen.


The July 2016 Council meeting in Olympia was the last for Washington Council Member Phil Rockefeller, who was appointed by then-Governor Christine Gregoire in 2011. During his five years on the Council, Member Rockefeller served as chair of the Council’s fish and wildlife committee in 2013 and 2014 and as Council chair in 2015.

As Council chair, Member Rockefeller presided over the completion of the Seventh Northwest Power Plan, which continues the Council's commitment to meeting all or nearly all new demand for electricity in the Northwest with zero-carbon, low-cost energy efficiency. As fish and wildlife committee chair, he presided over the development and completion of the 2014 Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program, in which the Council works with Columbia River tribes and fish and wildlife agencies in the four Northwest states to mitigate the impacts of hydropower dams on fish and wildlife.


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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.

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Tapping Into Geothermal Energy

posted Jun 21, 2016

Fish And Warm Water Don't Mix

posted Jun 20, 2016

Going, going, almost gone

posted Jun 7, 2016

Early Warning System

posted May 27, 2016

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