Why We Have a Regional Power Plan

posted Oct 29, 2014


What is the Northwest Power and Conservation Council and why is it writing its Seventh Northwest Power Plan?

The Council was authorized by Congress 1980 when it passed the Northwest Power Act, giving the states of Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington a greater voice in how we plan our energy future and manage natural resources.

Congress created the Council partly in reaction to the region’s disastrous decision to build five nuclear power plants in the state of Washington in the 1970s. The decision was based in part on inaccurate Northwest electricity load forecasts. Only one of the plants, the currently operating Columbia Generating Station, was ever completed. Due to exorbitant cost overruns, the other four plants were abandoned or mothballed prior to completion.

Two of the unfinished plants were responsible for one of the largest bond defaults in the history of the nation, while the financing for the other three plants was backed by the Bonneville Power Administration. Even today, more than 30 years after the Northwest Power Act was enacted, BPA pays millions of dollars a year on debt service for two of the unfinished nuclear plants. And, from 1978 to 1984, BPA was forced to raise its rates by 418 percent (adjusted for inflation) to pay for the cost of these plants. Congress concluded that an independent agency, without a vested interest in selling electricity, should be responsible for forecasting the region’s electricity load growth and determining which resources should be built.

One of the Council’s primary responsibilities, along with the fish and wildlife program, is to write a 20-year, least-cost power plan for the Pacific Northwest and update it at least every five years. The plan includes several key provisions, including an electricity demand forecast, electricity and natural gas price forecasts, an assessment of the amount of cost-effective energy efficiency that can be acquired over the life of the plan, and a least-cost generating resources portfolio. The plan guides BPA’s resource decision-making to meet its customers’ electricity load requirements.

Congress concluded back in 1980 that energy efficiency should be the priority energy resource for meeting the region’s future load growth, a decision that even today rings boldly. The Act includes a provision that directs the Council to give priority to cost-effective energy efficiency, followed by cost-effective renewable resources. In effect, for the first time in history, energy efficiency was deemed to be a legitimate source of energy, on par with generating resources. The rest is history. Since the release of the Council’s first Northwest Power Plan in 1983, the region’s utilities have acquired the equivalent of more than 5,600 average megawatts of electricity, enough savings to power five cities the size of Seattle.

The Council is now working to update the Northwest Power Plan for the seventh time. The new plan is expected to be completed in late 2015. 


How We Assess Generation Resources

posted Oct 24, 2014


Assessing different generating resources in order to know the best options for ensuring the region's power supply is a key element of the Council's power plan. The analysis considers things like cost, construction timeline, operation and performance, and regional availability. 

The Council's generating resources advisory committee (GRAC) reviews staff cost estimates and assumptions and provides feedback. Members include representatives from utilities, the Bonneville Power Administration, state commissions, and public interest groups.

In October, the committee discussed the preliminary assumptions for utility-scale onshore wind generation and natural gas peaking technologies, among other topics. Next month, they're scheduled to cover utility-scale solar PV and the hydropower potential scoping study. Also in November, the power committee will review the analyses for rooftop solar PV, utility-scale solar PV, combined-cycle combustion turbine technologies, and the wholesale electricity price forecast. In December, the GRAC is scheduled to finalize the preliminary onshore wind and gas peaking assumptions, and discuss emerging technologies, including energy storage, small modular reactors, and engineered geothermal.

The public is welcome to participate in all of the Council's meetings posted on our website. We'll be highlighting our work in the months ahead to keep you informed of how the plan is taking shape and to invite your feedback.

Estimating Energy Efficiency

posted Oct 24, 2014


A key element of the Council's power plan is its estimates of the potential for cost-effective energy efficiency.

At the October meeting, Charlie Grist, manager of conservation resources, described the process and methods used to determine how much energy efficiency is available and at what cost.

The Council's analysis involves a bottom-up review of hundreds of measures. It evaluates cost savings and availability across all sectors of the economy, and it relies on data from a wide range of sources to get a better picture of what is achievable. For the Council's Sixth Power Plan, issued in 2010, there were almost 400 measures considered for buildings, appliances, and processes for residential, commercial, industrial, and agriculture sectors. Measures for the utility distribution system are included as well. Once variations that affect a measure's cost and savings, like climate zone, heating system and building type and vintage, were taken into account, over 1,400 different permutations of savings opportunities were evaluated. The assessment for the Seventh Power Plan will involve a similar approach.

The assessment undergoes a rigorous review by the Council's conservation resources advisory committee and the Regional Technical Forum to vet the analysis and suggest improvements.

Since the Council was established in 1980, the region has acquired 5,600 average megawatts of energy efficiency, saving ratepayers billions of dollars. 



Columbia River Conference: Learning From Our Past to Shape Our Future

posted Oct 14, 2014 by John Harrison


This sculpture by Virgil "Smoker" Marchand, a well-known artist and a member of the Colville Confederated Tribes, is at the base of Spokane Falls below the Monroe Street Dam. The sculpture captures some of the major themes of the 2014 International Columbia River conference October 21-23 in Spokane: water, hydropower, ecosystems, and restoring salmon to places blocked by dams downstream. For information, check out the conference website

Revised Fish and Wildlife Program Focuses on Ecosystems and Wild Fish

posted Oct 8, 2014 by John Harrison

Restoring ecosystems and wild fish throughout the Columbia River Basin is a major theme of the latest Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program, which the Council approved on October 8, 2014.

The new program comes on the heels of a truly historic year for salmon. This year more salmon were counted at Bonneville Dam as they returned from the ocean than any year since 1938 when counting began. 2014 saw a record return of sockeye, a near-record fall Chinook run, and an impressive and building coho run.

“The great salmon returns of 2014, which continue a trend going back more than a decade, suggest that the extraordinary is becoming the ordinary,” Council Chair Bill Bradbury said. “Our fish and wildlife program supports the restoration of ecosystems and wild fish by addressing a broad spectrum of the fish and wildlife life cycle including habitat, hatcheries, river flows, dam passage, invasive species, and climate change impacts.”

Through the program, the Council works to restore healthy ecosystems and healthy populations of wild fish — including those that go to the ocean, like salmon, and those that don’t, like bull trout — throughout the entire Columbia River Basin. This work involves connecting areas of good habitat, removing fish-passage barriers, and improving water quality by reducing toxic substances. Much of the work designed to boost wild fish also helps wildlife in the same ecosystems.

The program also supports using hatchery programs as tools to help rebuild fish populations that spawn in the wild. The program integrates hatcheries with habitat improvements, and works with fish and wildlife agencies and Indian tribes to define the scope and purposes of fish propagation, as well as appropriate management techniques consistent with current and evolving scientific principles.

By law, the Council revises the fish and wildlife program at least every five years. The process began more than a year ago and involved more than 400 recommendations, extensive public comments, and public hearings in all four Northwest states.

The Council’s program is the biggest of its kind in the nation, directing more than $250 million a year to mitigate the impacts of hydropower dams in the Columbia River Basin — our region’s primary source of electricity — on fish and wildlife. The program is authorized by the Northwest Power Act of 1980, the federal law that also authorized the four Northwest states to create the Council. The program is funded by the Bonneville Power Administration.

Seventh Power Plan 101

posted Oct 6, 2014

Weathering a Cold Snap

posted Jan 17, 2014 by Carol Winkel

The Seventh Power Plan

posted Dec 11, 2013 by Carol Winkel

Designing for Efficiency

posted Nov 12, 2013 by John Harrison

The Flexibility Challenge

posted Oct 30, 2013 by Carol Winkel

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