posted Apr 30, 2013
Last week, the Council's power division viewed an excellent video on the importance of communicating scientific information to the public.
It's part of what Power Division Director Charlie Black calls prep work for the next power plan.
"Being able to explain how we develop the plan, its major components, and how different decisions interconnect, will be critical for helping people understand why it matters and how it affects them," said Black.
In the video, actor Alan Alda talks about the importance of connecting the public to science. He discovered through hosting the PBS program Scientific American Frontiers, that the best way for him to understand the complex subject matter was through informal conversations, not scripted lectures.
It's a humorous and heartfelt reflection on why there seems to be a wall, a disconnect, between scientists--or specialists of all kinds for that matter--and the public. You might say we're speaking two different languages. But Alda makes the case for why we must bridge the understanding gap, not just to nurture trust between the public and the science community, but to advance scientific understanding among scientists, too.
The Council's planning includes outreach to the public to begin that two-way converstion; to share information, listen to the concerns of people, and involve them in making important decisions about our energy future. The mid-term assessment of the last power plan was an example of this engagement, and it helped bring into focus some of the most important issues for the next plan to address.
We want to continue to do a better job of reaching people. Some ideas we have for communicating technical information include blog updates, interactive digital projects, and primers on key topics. What have you found to be effective communication tools? We'd love to hear your thoughts. In the meantime, stay tuned to our website for the latest information on building the Seventh Power Plan.
posted Apr 1, 2013
For more than a generation, the Pacific Northwest has been a leader in acquiring energy efficiency. Since 1978, the region has reduced electricity demand by more than 5,100 average megawatts, about half the region's load growth--more than enough to power four Seattles.
One of the reasons for this success has been the unique role that the Regional Technical Forum plays in providing a systematic way to validate energy efficiency savings.
Created in 1999 as an advisory committee to help the region meet the Council's targets for cost-effective energy efficiency, the forum uses a set of detailed guidelines for estimating savings. The savings are peer-reviewed so it's clear how the forum determined a measure's energy savings. Members include representatives from the Bonneville Power Administration, utilities, and energy organizations.
"My impression was that the forum was the designated authority on measures, but I learned that's not really the case," said Scott Williams, a senior market analyst at Puget Sound Energy in Bellevue, Washington, and a new member fo the forum.
"It's an advisory group that provides expertise that can be used by utilities and others. My understanding is that going to our state utilities commission with measures that have been blessed by the forum reduces our risk to almost a certainty that the claimed savings will be honored. That's a good thing for us."
Learn more about the forum in the upcoming Council Quarterly.
posted Nov 30, 2012 by Carol Winkel
A report on the importance of food webs to ecosystem health and fish restoration efforts in the Columbia River Basin, written by the Council's Independent Scientific Advisory Board last year, has recently been published as an article for an international audience in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.
As noted in an earlier blog post by lead author Dr. Robert J. Naiman, a University of Washington professor of acquatic and fishery sciences, "food webs fuel that ecosystem," underpinning the productivity and resiliency of the basin's fisheries.
The report's appearance in the journal will help bring more attention to this critical factor.
"The Northwest Power and Conservation Council has a strong fish and wildlife program that is based on what's called the four Hs--hatcheries, harvest, hydrosystem, and habitat," said Naiman.
"Our suggestion is that the program needs to incorporate food web concerns to improve its effectiveness."
posted Oct 29, 2012 by Carol Winkel
Langley Gulch Power Plant in southwest Idaho
One of the trends since the release of the Council's Sixth Power Plan in 2010 has been reduced carbon emissions from the electricity sector.
In a recent presentation on CO2 emissions, Power Division Director Charlie Black talked about the forces driving this reduction.
A major factor is the increasing use of gas-fired generation made possible by low-cost natural gas from shale. When gas-fired generation displaces coal-fired generation, carbon emissions are reduced in two ways. First, natural gas contains less carbon than an equivalent amount of coal. Second, modern gas-fired power plants convert each unit of fuel into electricity more efficiently than older coal-fired power plants.
Black also noted that the economy is becoming less energy-intensive, which further contributes to lower carbon emissions. The region's success in acquiring energy efficiency and growing renewable resources like wind are also factors in lowering emissions.
The shift is happening nationally as well. A recent report by the Brattle Group found that coal retirement projections are even more sensitive to future market conditions than to regulations. The new study finds that 59,000 to 77,000 megawatts of coal plant capacity are likely to retire over the next five years--about 20 percent of U.S. coal-fired generating capacity. Brattle also calculates that a $1 drop in gas price would double the magnitude of coal plant closures.
"Overall, the Brattle Group report is the latest signal that we appear to have moved into a phase where the composition of the nation's power generating fleet is undergoing a major change," notes Black.
"Many of the coal plants most likely to retire are older, less efficient units, which will be replaced largely by new, lower carbon-emitting natural gas-fired plants. As a result, we can probably expect to see further significant decreases in the total output of carbon dioxide from the U.S. electricity sector."
posted Aug 24, 2012 by Carol Winkel
Since the Council released its Sixth Power Plan in 2010, a lot has happened.
The mid-term assessment of the plan, a blueprint to an economical and reliable power system, will take stock of the changes and how they affect the Council's planning.
At the August Council meeting, Power Division Director Charlie Black presented a series of narratives that the division prepared to help make sense of the complex, and often interrelated, issues we face. The narratives provide a snapshot of the major trends affecting energy, from electricity demand and natural gas prices, to energy efficiency achievements and efforts to reduce greenhouse gases. Together they help paint the big picture and highlight key issues of concern in the energy community today.
We'll be highlighting different topics in the future to keep you informed of our progress. A draft report is scheduled for release in November.
posted Jul 19, 2012 by Carol Winkel
The Council has released a revised forecast for fuel prices. The important message for consumers is that the downward price forecast for natural gas should help keep electricity prices down as well.
New technologies to access natural gas trapped in shale formations, also known as "fracking," has improved the supply outlook for this fuel. Development has taken off in the past few years, creating a glut in the market that should last for several years and depress prices.
But, says Massoud Jourabchi, manager of economic analysis for the Council, the market has demonstrated a clear tendency toward volatility. Citing the recent tightening in natural gas prices, due in part to higher demand from electric utilities, he notes "It's important to remember that the market can change quickly."
The range of forecasts reflects continued uncertainty about the development of shale gas, its costs and environmental effects, as well as the speed of economic recovery.
While the revision lowers the forecast for electricity prices, and to some degree changes the fuel competition between natural gas and electricity, the Council doesn't expect its resource strategy to change as a result, but this will be evaluated during the Council's mid-term assessment of the power plan.
posted Jun 25, 2012 by Carol Winkel
As little as thirty years ago, the only resources energy planners considered to meet future demand were coal and nuclear. People couldn't imagine any other options.
Today, the Pacific Northwest uses other kinds of generation. The system is still hydro-based, with the Bonneville Power Administration playing a dominant role marketing the power from the federal hydrosystem, but natural gas and wind are now growing resources.
<< See this infographic as PDF
Perhaps most remarkable has been the impact of energy efficiency. It's now our third largest resource, contributing 16 percent of the region's energy. Combined with what the federal hydrosystem generates, 70 percent of the region's electricity demand is met with clean energy.
posted Apr 13, 2012 by Carol Winkel
We've reported on the threat of invasive quagga mussels in an earlier post, and it looks like that threat has never been greater. Forty-one barges are set to arrive in Seattle, Washington, and they appear to be infested with the destructive species.
According to Karen Vargas, wildlife staff specialist with the Nevada Department of Wildlife, trucks shipping the barges from Lake Mead, Nevada will be arriving throughout the weekend; the last shipment is scheduled to arrive on Monday, April 16.
The Vegas Tunnel Construction Company is responsible for the barges, and although the company claims that the barges have been cleaned, photographs taken by diligent inspectors with the Idaho Transportation Department show otherwise.
For now, the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and Nevada Department of Wildlife have been in contact with the owners of the barges and are developing a plan to ensure that the barges are properly cleaned before leaving Nevada and re-inspected once they arrive in Washington.
These mussels spread rapidly and can quickly cover hard surfaces, smothering other aquatic life and clogging water system infrastructures. It's not exaggerating to say that the costs of an infestation, both financially and to the ecosystem, would be enormous.
We'll keep you updated.
posted Apr 6, 2012The Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s panel of independent scientists recently completed a review of 71 projects to implement the Council’s Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program over the next several years, finding that just 14 of them “meet scientific criteria,” meaning that they can go ahead without additional refinements. Thirty-seven others met scientific criteria with qualifications, meaning that the project proponents need to answer questions raised by the panel, and three proposed projects did not meet scientific criteria, according to the11-member Independent Scientific Review Panel. The ISRP earlier gave the OK to 17 other project proposals.
Most of the 71 ongoing projects help resident fish; the other projects concern data management and program coordination. The ISRP also reported on issues related to non-native fish management, trout-stocking strategies, and monitoring and evaluation of projects.
The Council and the Bonneville Power Administration use the review to ensure that projects meet the requirements of the program and federal biological opinions.
The ISRP will present its findings at the Council’s April 10-11 meeting. The Council will discuss the findings and the project proposals at its May and June meetings, and then make funding recommendations to Bonneville at the June or July meetings.
posted Mar 22, 2012
There's a common perception that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's decision to allow Oregon, Washington, and Idaho to kill California sea lions at Bonneville Dam addresses the fish predation problem there. But right now, most of the damage is being done by Steller sea lions, not California sea lions. And it's sturgeon they are mostly eating, not salmon.
According to the Army Corps of Engineers' latest status report on pinniped predation at the dam, "California sea lions have remained scarce so far this year...We have documented approximately 45 different Steller sea lions visiting the dam so far and seven California sea lions."
The Steller's impact on sturgeon is a concern for fish managers worried about their toll on the population in the lower river. The fish aren't listed, but Oregon and Washington have reduced the lower river harvest in recent years because of a decline in their numbers. While the sturgeon catch is less than last year's catch at this time, at 1,189 fish it's still high. It's a difficult issue because Steller's are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, so they can't be harmed.
The total expanded salmonid catch, primarily by Stellers, through March 14 was 119 fish, much less than in the last six years. Last year at this time, the estimated salmon take was 185 and in 2010 it was 274. The Corps, which owns Bonneville, has been monitoring Steller and California sea lions since 2002 when they began arriving to feed on spawning salmon below the dam. Sturgeon also mill around that area, making the estuary an easy feeding ground for the marine mammals. The Corps is only observing sea lion take in the immediate area of the tailrace below the project, not further downstream, so it's hard to know exactly how many sturgeon or salmon are falling prey to sea lions below the dam to the river's mouth. It would take many more boats and observers to try and do so.
For now, hazing is the method of deterrence for California sea lions. They're protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which is why NOAA's authorization was required. As the season continues, their numbers and level of predation may increase, and if so, the states will be able to protect endangered salmon and steelhead by trapping and lethal means. It's a hard choice of last resort, but a necessary step to save a species that the region has made substantial investments to recover.
posted Mar 16, 2012Washington, Oregon, and Idaho fish managers are optimistic about salmon and steelhead returns to the Columbia River Basin in 2012, with some runs predicted to return in numbers not seen in decades – particularly sockeye. State fish and wildlife agency representatives briefed the Northwest Power and Conservation Council this month on the 2011 runs and predictions for 2012. Here are some of the highlights:
- Upriver spring Chinook: The 2012 forecast is 314,200 fish entering the Columbia -- 168,000 Snake River fish (39,100 wild) and 32,600 upper Columbia spring Chinook (2,800 wild), with the remainder of the run returning to mid-Columbia tributaries. That’s nearly 100,000 more than the 2011 run of 221,200.
- Summer Chinook: The 2012 forecast is for 91,200 fish, which would be the highest return since at least 1980, and 135 percent of the 10-year average (67,500 adult fish). The 2011 run totaled 80,574.
- Sockeye: The 2012 sockeye forecast is a whopping 462,000 fish, which includes 28,800 to the Wenatchee River, 431,300 to the Okanogan River, and 1,900 to the Snake River – in all, 348 percent of the recent 10-year average. The 2011 return was 187,300 fish. The 1,900-fish forecast for the Snake River would beat last year’s 1,500, which was the second-highest observed since at least 1980, trailing only the record return of 2010. That’s an impressive improvement from the 1990s, when the run dwindled to single-digit returns.
- Upriver summer steelhead: The 2012 forecast is 380,300 fish, which is 95 percent of the 10-year average and very similar to the 2011 return.
- Upriver fall Chinook: The estimate for 2012 is 483,500, which would be more than in 2011. The upriver-bright component, fish that spawn in the Hanford Reach primarily, is expected to be 353,300 fish, which is nearly 100,000 more than the 2000-2011 average of 257,000.
- Snake River wild fall Chinook: The run was estimated at 14,900 in 2011, and about the same number are expected this year – approximately double the 2000-2011 average of 8,100 fish.
posted Feb 27, 2012
With the spring and summer boating season approaching, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council recently appealed to the directors of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Parks Service to use a $1 million earmark in the 2012 budget of the Fish and Wildlife Service to establish a mandatory inspection and decontamination system at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.
Destructive zebra and quagga mussels have invaded lakes in the Southwest, notably Lake Mead on the Colorado River, and the threat that they will find their way north to the Columbia River by way of infested watercraft increases every year.
Since 2009, police agencies in the Northwest states have intercepted a large number of mussel-infested boats as their owners hauled them north in the spring and summer. The majority came from Lake Mead. The Council believes it's critical to have a containment program in place at Lake Mead before boats begin returning to Northwest waters this spring.
The dime-sized mussels grow hard shells and form rapidly into thick, mat-like colonies that can adhere to virtually any hard surface. These colonies rob nutrients from other aquatic species and can clog subsurface structures from docks and piers to water intakes at hydroelectric dams. The Bureau of Reclamation includes $1 million annually in its budget for Hoover Dam, which impounds Lake Mead, for maintenance of subsurface structures infested with mussels.
posted Feb 10, 2012
In order to plan the region's energy supply, the Council maintains a comprehensive database of generating resources. The data is updated in a workbook each day, and a portion of it is made available to the public periodically.
"We use the information in the Council's models and analyses and to assess the adequacy of the power system," says Terry Morlan, power division director.
Ken Dragoon, resource analyst and Gillian Charles, policy analyst gave a tour of the database and interactive map at this week's Council meeting.
The database is a critical tool for the Council as it develops its regional power plan, but it's also widely used by others in the Northwest, and in other parts of the country and world as well.
"The main purpose of the database is for our work, but it's one of the most complete resources available, and because of that we've found that a lot of other organizations use it," says Charles.
The database contains a wealth of information that can be filtered in a variety of ways. Several charts and graphs are also available showing the region's energy mix and historical development.
In the future, the Council hopes to continue to make the public portion of the database even easier to use, with links to other pertinent information.
"Right now, we're really focused on keeping the information updated. We'd like people to know about the database, that it's a useful tool not just for our work, but for others as well," notes Charles.
If you have information that will help us to keep the database updated, you're encouraged to contact Charles at 503-222-5161 or email@example.com.
posted Dec 23, 2011On December 21 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued new rules to curb emissions of mercury and other toxic substances from power plants that burn coal, relying on pollution controls that are already in use at more than half of the nation’s coal-fired power plants. According to an EPA press release, power plants are the largest remaining source of air pollutants including mercury, arsenic, and cyanide. Once final, the standards will ensure the remaining plants take steps to decrease emissions of dangerous pollutants.
The Pacific Northwest does not rely on coal to generate electricity as much as other parts of the country because of our abundant supply of hydropower. Still, coal-fired generating plants represent 12.2 percent of the region’s generating capacity and 16.9 percent of the electricity generated on average throughout the year. An Oregon Public Broadcasting story breaks down the amount of coal-fired electricity generation by state in the Northwest.
The Council’s Northwest Power Plan, which guides the Bonneville Power Administration, the region’s largest electricity provider, recommends ways to reduce toxic gas emissions from power plants that burn fossil fuels, primarily carbon dioxide.
The Council’s plan explores, through various scenario analyses, what actions must be taken to meet emission targets in state law in Oregon and Washington, Washington and in the Western Climate Initiative.
There are four critical elements to those actions. First is acquiring nearly 6,000 average megawatts of energy efficiency improvements over the 20-year planning horizon (through 2029). Second is reducing reliance on coal-fired generation to about half of current levels. Third is meeting renewable-energy portfolio standards that already exist in three of the four Northwest states. Finally, the region needs to preserve the capability of the hydroelectric system to the greatest extent possible within the limits of fish and wildlife impacts and other obligations. These actions, designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, also will reduce emissions of other toxic air pollutants.
posted Dec 13, 2011Cecil Andrus says much has changed and much has stayed the same in the environmental and energy arenas since he was governor of Idaho–first in the 1970s, and then again in the 1990s, with four years as United States Secretary of the Interior under President Jimmy Carter in between.
Andrus, arguably Idaho’s most accomplished political leader, is the subject of a new biography written by Chris Carlson, an original member of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council and a longtime Andrus aide.
Andrus, now 80, has slowed a bit, but he's still a keen political observer who stays current on environmental and economic issues.
As a politician, he was known for being a straightshooter, and that hasn’t changed. The current Idaho Legislature is “a bunch of damn idiots” for the way lawmakers have handled–or mishandled, in his opinion–important issues such as education funding.
He’s distraught over the increasing incivility of political discourse. “Sometimes when I look at what’s going on in the political arena–the arrogance of political power when it's so dominant in one area and there is no compromise available. Power does in fact corrupt.”
But he's not a defeatist. “Obviously, I’m the eternal optimist or I would not have done what I did for 50 years.”
In an upcoming interview in the Council Quarterly, Andrus talks about the ongoing controversy over salmon and the impacts of the four federal dams on the lower Snake River. “The salmon-runs issue hasn’t really changed. There’s been a lot of scientific information and speeches made about it, but the answers are still yet to come, and that hasn’t changed.” He also speculates on what is needed to finally resolve the dispute.
He’s concerned about the accumulation of nuclear waste in Idaho. “The biggest thing I see facing us is the nuclear waste issue here in Idaho. You gotta have a home for it, and I don’t see any home on the horizon. Although we have a 1995 agreement that says all of it will be removed by 2035, I can look you in the eye and tell you it ain’t gonna happen. Because with Yucca Mountain’s disappearance there isn’t any place for it.”
posted Oct 24, 2011
This week, Condit Dam will go down on October 26. It will be the second-highest dam removed in the United States. Built in the early 1900s on the White Salmon River in Washington state, impounding the river removed 33 miles of steelhead habitat and 14 miles of salmon habitat. You can read more about the project in this story by the Columbian.
We were able to tour the dam recently and took some photos. Needless to say, there are are a lot of photos and video of the dam as demolition day approaches. This blog is a great resource.
But we were particularly struck by the inscription written on a wall in the powerhouse. It is a bet waged by workers on when World War II would end. Reading it, you suddenly feel the presence of the past, and it is singularly alive, vivid with meaning. It's a reminder of the the ways in which even the smallest, incidental human gestures are interwoven in the arc of history, and survive despite the odds. In this sense, sharing becomes a means of preservation.
posted Oct 18, 2011
This past weekend, the Snohomish County Public Utility District opened the first new hydroelectric project in Washington state in nearly 20 years. The Youngs Creek facility, south of Sultan, has a generating capacity of 7.5 megawatts--enough to power about 2,000 homes.
"We're committed to operating this facility and other hydropower projects in a way that protects our natural environment while serving the community's need for high quality water and energy," says PUD Board of Commissioners President Dave Aldrich.
The project gives the PUD greater flexibility since it's a locally generated, reliable resource that will provide energy at times of the year when it's needed the most. It's also competitively priced compared to other green energy sources, which aligns with the Council's planning recommendations.
The Council's most recent power plan's resource strategy encourages developing "...other renewable alternatives that may be available at the local, small-scale level and are cost-effective now."
Located above a waterfall, the project doesn't affect migrating fish like salmon, and because it's close to load, it reduces the need for hundreds of miles of new transmission line, minimizing line losses and effects on the environment.
In developing the project, Snohomish worked closely with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, other state and federal agencies, and local tribes to make sure river flows and fish were protected.
posted Oct 4, 2011
The Council's annual report on energy efficiency savings will be presented at next week's meeting, and the numbers are very encouraging.
In 2010, the region acquired 254 average megawatts of efficiency savings, the largest total ever achieved in the past three decades, almost 25 percent more than the Council's target of 200 average megawatts set in its power plan.
The Council conducts a survey of utilities, the Energy Trust of Oregon, the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, and the Bonneville Power Administration to determine the region's aggregate efficiency savings and investments.
Another promising trend is improved savings in the commercial and industrial sectors, indicating that less reliance is now being placed on the residential sector, where savings from compact fluorescent lighting still dominates. Bonneville, and the public utilities it serves, had targeted the industrial sector, in particular, which seems to have paid off.
posted Sep 9, 2011Historically, the Columbia River hydrosystem has enabled operators to adjust energy up or down to keep load and generation in balance. But with more wind generation coming on line, which can fluctuate quickly, planners are looking at different options to add flexibility to the system.
The Council's regional energy plan recommended exploring the possibility of demand response programs to accomplish this.
One such example is a pilot project to test the use of water heaters, space heaters, and refrigeration warehouses as "batteries" of sorts, which the Council will hear more about at its upcoming meeting.
"As far as I know, it's the only test that's ever been done in North America, and perhaps the world," says Ken Corum, senior economist for the Council.
The project will help determine if the mechanisms installed actually operate as planned to manage the storage and release of electricity in the necessary timeframes without affecting service to customers.
The test water heaters are customized with mixing valves to add cooler water to hot water and controls to monitor electricity use.
"There are over 3 million electric water heaters in the region. That's about 1/2 a kilowatt for each water heater," notes Corum. The potential added reserve is roughly 1,500 megawatts, which is more than what the Bonneville Power Administration holds now.
Bonneville is providing the major funding for the project, which should provide useful information a year from now. The Council is also a contributor. Project participants include Ecofys, EnerNOC, Spirae Inc., Pacific NW National Lab, and the Steffes Corporation.
posted Aug 23, 2011
Since the Council identified energy efficiency in its regional energy plan as the key resource to meet most of our future load growth, where will this efficiency come from?
We heard about some promising areas at the Council's August meeting from Claire Fulenwider, executive director of the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, who gave a presentation on her organization's work.
NEEA's focus has been on market transformation; trying to identify and overcome the barriers to adopting energy-efficient products. The growth of compact fluorescent bulbs is one good example of their progress in this effort.
One of the technologies the organization is working to advance is solid state lighting, especially for street lights.
"Solid state street lights use 50 percent less energy than traditional lights, and with control systems another 50 percent is possible,” noted Fulenwider. This represents a potential energy efficiency resource of up to 150 average megawatts each year.
The next steps for NEEA include testing the lights for improved visual acuity and cost-effectiveness in pilot projects across the Northwest. NEEA also provides technical support to the Illuminating Engineering Society to set standards for outdoor lighting.
"Solid state lights use less energy, but may actually provide lighting that improves nighttime vision and clarity," said Fulenwider.
posted Aug 2, 2011The Council's Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Program depends on local watershed plans--subbasin plans--to inform its recommendations about what projects to fund. These plans connect all the various fish and wildlife actions already underway, identify problems that need attention, and provide guidelines to direct the projects. The goal is to bring everyone involved in fish and wildlife work, or who is interested in these issues, together to help craft restoration strategies that are clear and comprehensive and that have broad public support.
To make sure the plans stay vital and relevant, we're conducting a survey (survey ended Aug 2011) to find out how we can improve them. Help us determine the best ways to update the plans and what future plans should look like and how they should function. How can we make them most useful? How can we make them easy to use and understand? Do we need a subbasin planning app? How can we make them interactive?
We've got the questions--we just need to hear what you think.
posted Jul 26, 2011Donald "Bud" Hover of Winthrop, Washington, is an Okanogan County commissioner and hay farmer who also chairs the Washington state Salmon Recovery Funding Board. Here's a preview of our interview with him for the summer Council Quarterly where he describes his journey from salmon recovery skeptic to collaboration convert.
Q. Today, the Upper Columbia Salmon Recovery Plan, which the board created and implements, is viewed by many as a showpiece of how to do things right for the fish and the economy. What happened to bring about the transition from confrontation to collaboration?
It was clear that the top-down approach employed by the Fisheries Service in 1997 and 1998 was not going to work. You didn’t drive around in the Entiat or the Methow [river basins] in cars with state or federal markings because you were not very welcome there.
So several state legislators and county commissioners got together and said, “we’re going to take this on.” The Fisheries Service knew that they could create any document they wanted, and it would never be implemented here. If they really wanted to see it implemented, it had to be created from a grass-roots approach because you had to get buy-in from the local people, the people who own land along the rivers, the habitat.
I’m a long-time member of the Farm Bureau and the Cattlemen’s Association. When I ran for office, these folks formed my main constituent base. As a new member of the Upper Columbia Salmon Recovery Board, the first people to approach me voicing their opposition to the recovery plan were my own constituents. They all piled on because of the way we had been treated.
At that time, the board was within a year of having its recovery plan completed, and I basically put the brakes on it because I had people chewing on me saying it wasn’t a good thing for Okanogan County. I got a lot of support from Paul Ward, who represented the Yakamas on the board; Bill Towey who represents the Colvilles, was supportive, too, but also very impatient--he really wanted to get the thing done. The other members were very patient with me. We hired our executive director, Julie Morgan, and she started communicating and got that grass roots approach going with the people in Chelan, Douglas, and Okanogan counties, kept the state and federal agencies at bay, and pulled all this stuff together.
Fortunately, we had the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office help coordinate the effort, but basically it started here and worked up. The success that we have had is because we took a grass-roots, bottom-up approach. Today, I believe in the collaboration process. It really, really has worked.
In order to do it, though, you’ve got to have a tough skin, a lot of patience, and an open mind. Here’s a personal example: When I first came into this, I didn’t give a damn about what the tribes cared about. In my opinion, they were saying the fish were endangered, but they had nets in the river. I didn’t know anything about their issues. Since then I’ve learned that it’s not just an economic issue with the tribes. It’s a real deep, cultural, religious issue with the tribes. I have gotten a much better understanding of their desires and needs. And I’m really happy to report, we’re seeing improved fish returns.
posted Jun 22, 2011A decade-long research study in which a variety of sea animals were tagged and tracked beneath the Pacific ocean has unveiled fresh insight into a world that has remained largely hidden and unknown.
The Washington Post's story and The New York Times blog report on the study's findings, and also offer additional links and multimedia information about the study and the state of the ocean.
It's a fascinating look at where animals go and why, and it holds out hope that we can yet preserve the ocean's abundance. Quoting from the Post's story:
“It’s precedent-setting. It’s a tremendous tool for conservation and management,” said Jesse Ausubel, vice president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and co-founder of the Census of Marine Life.
In a week where news of another ocean study warned of the risk of extinction for many species, the tagging research points to a way forward by protecting the key areas that nourish so much sea life.
It's called protecting the best, which is why, in 1988, the Council adopted an amendment to both its fish and wildlife program and its power plan, designating some 44,000 miles of Northwest streams as "protected areas" because of their importance as critical fish and wildlife habitat.
As for the ocean:
The information revealed through electronic tagging, Ausubel said, should compel policymakers to protect these underwater animal meccas. “It’s a joy and a revelation, and it’s also a call to action.”
posted Jun 13, 2011According to NOAA's Northwest River Forecast Center's official June forecast, the April to August runoff at the Dalles Dam is now 126 MAF, or 135 percent of the 30-year (1971-2001) average. That's a lot of water set to flow through the Columbia River system.
While not a record, it's close to the 61-year record of 147 percent, and it's already begun to present problems for the region's power system. The combination of too much hydro generation coinciding with high winds (often at night when demand is low) has meant that the Bonneville Power Administration has had to take wind offline at times.
Episodes of over supply sometimes occur during the spring run-off, and when that happens, Bonneville can spill water rather than directing it through turbines to generate electricity. But only to a point. Passing water through the spill gates creates gas bubbles that can hurt fish, and there are legal limits on dissolved gas levels.
Council members were briefed by the Bonneville Power Administration on the power supply and spill situation at a meeting last week.
Concerns about flooding are also growing, with western Montana and the northern panhandle of Idaho hit the hardest with high flows and flooding. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for regulating the major storage reservoirs in the U.S. and British Columbia for flood control.
"Both Libby and Hungry Horse dams are currently on a controlled flood control-refill operation to protect areas immediately downstream, such as Bonner's Ferry and Columbia Falls, and to help provide system flood control protection for the Portland-Vancouver areas," says Jim Ruff, manager, mainstem passage and river operations.
"This is one of those years when we should be thankful we have these major storage projects to provide the region with flood control," he added. "Otherwise, we'd have major flooding throughout the basin!"
posted Jun 7, 2011Most of us have heard of the smart grid and have some sort of hazy understanding of it as moving the power grid into the digital age. Technologies that automatically communicate usage data to power providers make it possible to diagnose system problems quickly, provide better customer services, and improve the efficiency and reliability of the grid.
This recent post describes the need to give consumers a variety of options in order the successfully modernize the power grid.
On a trip last month to Lane Electric Co-op in Eugene, Oregon we were able to hear about their experience on the frontline of progress.
In 2006, the small electric cooperative began deploying an automated meter reading system for its 12,500 meters and 12 substations. Since then, according to Dave D'Avanzo, manager of member services, the system has paid for itself and then some.
"Going with the advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) system meant we could replace all of our aging meters," says D'Avanzo.
Lane's contracted meter readers weren't always consistent in their data gathering. And the 40-year old electromechanical meters had accuracy problems, too. For a fair percentage of the meters, the accuracy rate was only about 80 percent, and in a few cases, as low as 17 percent.
Since deploying the new system, revenue is up thanks to more accurate readings and billing. Also, their service crew no longer has to do a lot of follow-up work, re-readings, accuracy checks, and the like. "You don't want to use trained servicemen as back-up meter readers and collection personnel," notes D'Avanzo. "With the AMI system, they're doing the work they trained for; we're able to know right away what's going on with the system and deploy resources to the affected area."
Another advantage of the system has been greater transparency about energy usage for Lane's mostly residential customers. Members can monitor their daily energy use and adjust their habits accordingly. They can also get daily usage alerts via email, text message, and phone calls. The prepaid metering or pay-as-you-go program allows customers to pay for their electricity before they use it, so participants can customize their payment schedule.
"We've really just scratched the surface in terms of what the system can do," says D'Avanzo. "In the future, we hope to offer even more options for members to participate in energy efficiency and demand response programs; tools for people to control their energy use and help the system work as efficiently as possible."
posted Apr 27, 2011A recent consumer survey by EcoAlign, a strategic marketing agency in the energy sector, found that two-thirds of Americans feel that phasing out traditional incandescent light bulbs and replacing them with energy-efficient lights is a good idea. A majority of Americans have installed some type of energy-efficient lighting in their homes, with two-thirds having installed compact fluorescent lights in their home over the past year.
Improved efficiency will play a huge role in meeting the Pacific Northwest's future electricity demand--85 percent over the next 20 years--with lighting an important area of savings.
In its latest power plan, the Council found over 1,400 average megawatts of potential savings in the commercial sector, and nearly two-thirds are in lighting systems. New technologies like LED lights and improved lighting fixtures and controls offer added potential savings in both outdoor and indoor lighting.
As technology offers more options to consumers, savings are not only about economics, but lifestyle and comfort. EcoAlign CEO Jamie Wimberly notes, "For many, efficiency standards represent excellence and have become part of a broader narrative connected to progress."
posted Apr 18, 2011We recently updated a very useful brochure (online interactive version) on the Pacific Northwest's power supply, and it really brought home just how fast wind power has grown in the last five years. Here are the numbers:
- In 2006, there were 15 wind facilities with 1,588 megawatts of capacity,* contributing 2.3 percent to the region's capacity supply
- In 2011, there are 41 generating 5,583 megawatts of capacity supplying nearly 10 percent of total supply
That's a lot of new wind power developed in a short timeframe, which has created both opportunities and challenges. Just last month, the Bonneville Power Administration reported that wind generation on its system had passed a new milestone on February 22, reaching an all-time peak of 3,006 megawatts--that's enough electricity to serve a city three times the size of Seattle. In just the last two years alone, more than 1,500 megawatts have been added.
So what does the future hold? Will wind continue to grow at this pace? Will other resources emerge, continuing to diversify our supply portfolio? Here are some thoughts from the Council's Ken Dragoon, senior resource analyst.
"We'll soon reach the 6,000 megawatts of wind generation that the wind integration forum identified in 2007, so it's time to look at how to prepare for the next 6,000."
According to Dragoon, work is underway on a number of fronts, like shorter operating periods, reducing barriers to intra-hour scheduling, and mechanisms that will allow utilities to access both generation and load flexibility, making it easier for operators to balance supply and demand and help integrate variable resources like wind.
FERC released a notice of proposed rulemaking that included using 15-minute operating periods as a tool to balance generation and load more accurately, reducing the amount of energy operators would need to keep in reserve. "It could reduce reserve requirements by about 20 percent," says Dragoon.
In another example of efforts to achieve greater system efficiencies, both WECC and the Southwest Power Pool have made progress on establishing more fluid, open markets that give participants real-time prices and dispatch signals, improving access to flexibility in existing generation around the region.
WECC has developed what it calls the efficient dispatch toolkit, which it's continuing to analyze. As for the SWPP's voluntary market, initial reviews of it have been quite positive. "It appears to have saved them a lot of money," notes Dragoon.
In the Northwest, the Bonneville Power Administration has funded a grant to look at using electric waters heaters to provide balancing services. The idea is that during short periods of over supply (when wind generation rapidly increases), the unscheduled power can go to heat water. The Milton-Freewater area has used the storage capability in water and space heaters to limit peak loads since 1985.
"Right now, we're set to test 40 water heaters with new high-tech controls in the service territories of Cowlitz PUD, the Eugene Water and Electric Board, and Lower Valley Electric Cooperative," says Dragoon. The project should be up and running sometime this June.
The over supply issue is thorny since the two obvious options after displacing fossil-fueled power plants--spilling water or curtailing wind--have downsides. Too much spill can harm fish and taking wind offline hurts the bottom line for wind operators. The Bonneville Power Administration had proposed a plan to curtail wind generation during periods of over supply, but recently put implementing it on hold to review stakeholder comments.
Still, Dragoon, who has extensive experience with renewable resources like wind, believes it's not an insurmountable obstacle. "Bonneville lacks the institutional mechanisms to deal with limiting wind generation, but its proposal is very controversial," he says. "Ultimately, the region needs to have straightforward protocols spelled out in advance."
The Council's analysis on the issue describes the challenges and outlines some possible solutions.
In the meantime, the wind integration forum will be reconvening this summer. The task at hand: How do we get to the next phase in wind's development? Some of the big picture items on their agenda will be:
- a review of development since 2003; environmental and economic consequences
- what actions need to happen next
- review transmission needs
At the national level, a 2008 Department of Energy study explored the feasibility of using wind energy to generate 20 percent of the United States' electricity demand by 2030, outlining a road map to expand this renewable resource and lower carbon emissions.
Dragoon hopes the region will start thinking bigger about renewable energy. "There's a lot going on to just make the system work, but it's time to begin thinking more broadly about how to optimally design and operate our system when a significant portion of our energy comes from new renewable resources."
*The maximum amount of power that a power plant can produce at specified times under specified conditions. One average megawatt can power about 700 homes for a year.
posted Mar 31, 2011The Council's Executive Director Steve Crow responds to an Oregonian op ed:
In his March 20 commentary in The Oregonian, Steven Hawley gets his facts wrong about the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's Sixth Northwest Power Plan.
Hawley wrote that the output of "a few dams on the Snake River" could be replaced "without replacing the lost power with new generating plants." This he attributes to "the agency responsible for recommending power plans and fish-recovery measures to the BPA." That agency is the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, and it has never made such an assertion.
By law, the council develops a power plan that is implemented by the Bonneville Power Administration. The council revises the plan every five years, each time looking 20 years into the future. Our conclusion in the Sixth Northwest Power Plan (February 2010) is that 85 percent of the new demand for electricity over the next 20 years could be met with investments in improving energy-use efficiency. But this assumes that the four federal dams on the lower Snake River remain in place, continuing to provide clean, low-cost hydropower to the Northwest.
To replace the lost output of the four dams, our analysis indicates that regional output of existing power plants fired by natural gas and coal would have to increase, and that new natural gas-fired generation would be needed along with more energy efficiency. Carbon emissions would increase by 3 million tons per year, a 7.6 percent increase compared to current hydropower operations.
Finally, dam removal also would increase the cost of the power system, according to our analysis. Because the dams primarily serve BPA customers, they would bear the majority of the increased cost -- potentially a 24 to 29 percent increase in the rate BPA currently charges its utility customers.
The council's analysis of Snake River dam removal is in Chapter 10 of the Sixth Northwest Power Plan.
posted Mar 30, 2011The Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation unveiled the first-of-its-kind boat wash decontamination system in a recent demonstration at the Boise, Idaho office of the Bureau of Reclamation. The tribes purchased the system to protect their waters from an infestation of quagga and zebra mussels. The tribes depend on the Owyhee, Snake, and Columbia rivers, as well as Wildhorse Reservoir and the Duck Valley Reservation lakes and streams.
The tribes purchased the system from the Prefix Clean Company, which designed and built the system to the specifications provided by invasive species experts in the Northwest. Watercraft are pulled across the wash platform while hot water is sprayed over them for a specified time to assure that the species are killed. The wash water is collected, filtered, purified, and reused. The solid waste is captured in the filters and collection basins to be placed in containers and deposited in a landfill. Hot water and electricity is provided by the self-contained unit.
"We would like to thank the cooperative partners that joined this effort and helped with funding, especially the Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Idaho Power Company, Nevada Department of Wildlife, U.S. Senator Mike Crapo, and the Idaho office of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. The Nevada Department of Parks and the Idaho Congressional offices have also provided support, especially the Idaho Department of Agriculture," said Robert Bear, chair of the tribal business council.
The Shoshone-Paiute Tribes are working with the Nevada Department of Parks and the Nevada Department of Wildlife to place the system at Wild Horse Reservoir State Park to inspect boats traveling north from Elko, Nevada to Wildhorse Reservoir. For boats where mussels are found, decontamination will only be a 5 to 10 minute boat wash instead of the customary month-long quarantine. And both the boat inspection and boat wash are free.
Establishing the decontamination system illustrates the importance of collaboration. The project wouldn't have been possible without the support of many different partners with varying responsibilities and mandates.
"The effort was a work in progress for over a year and required coordination among a lot of people and groups," said Idaho Council member Jim Yost. "But when we hit an obstacle, we figured a way around it, and this summer we expect to have the system up and running."
posted Feb 24, 2011In the upcoming Council Quarterly, we interview Stephen R. Oliver, vice president of generation asset management for the Bonneville Power Administration and the co-coordinator of the U.S. Entity for implementing the Columbia River Treaty. Work is underway to update this landmark agreement between the U.S. and Canada, and Oliver discusses the importance of the treaty and how it might change. Here's a condensed preview:
Q. What benefits do the United States and Canada enjoy under the treaty, and would those change if the treaty is terminated? If so, how?
A. Since 1964, the Columbia River Treaty has brought benefits to both the United States and Canada by providing a cooperative way to regulate the Columbia River. Under the treaty, the two nations jointly manage the river for power generation and flood control as it flows from British Columbia into the United States. The treaty is widely praised worldwide as a model of international cooperation in the management of a large trans-boundary river.
The impetus for the treaty came from the disastrous flood at Vanport (now part of Portland) in 1948 and the subsequent opportunity for low-cost hydropower to fuel the Northwest economy.
Although the treaty has no termination date, it does have two provisions that take effect on and after September 16, 2024 that will change flood control operations and payments between Canada and the United States and provide the option for either country to terminate most of the treaty provisions with a minimum of 10 years’ notice.
Q. The treaty addresses only flood control and hydropower generation. Is the review considering how other river uses, such as irrigation, water supply, or ESA-required flows for salmon and steelhead migration, can best be met in the future; whether that future continues under the existing treaty or under a terminated, modified or new treaty? If so, how?
A. Yes, it is. The world is a different place than it was in 1964. Power and flood control are not the only relevant issues when determining how to best manage the resources of the Columbia River for the common good. The U.S. Entity’s overarching challenge in the review will be to adequately consider the ecosystem, environmental, irrigation, navigation, and other issues that were not addressed in the original treaty, and balance those interests with the continuing need for flood control and power benefits.
It is the U.S. Entity’s intention to submit a recommendation to the State Department in September of 2013; one year before either nation can transmit its intention to terminate the treaty, in order to provide federal authorities sufficient time to deliberate and review that recommendation.
Q. While there are myriad issues to address and resolve in the review, what are several of the most important in your opinion?
A. Going forward, the policy and analytical challenges are substantial. Since the treaty’s signing, far reaching fish and wildlife statutory protections have been enacted that bear on BPA’s and the Corps of Engineers' responsibilities for managing the Columbia River. Fourteen fish and wildlife species have been listed and the current biological opinion explicitly notes the need to address river flows resulting from treaty operations. Also critical are the changes to flood control that automatically occur in 2024, and the need to assure that the amount of the Canadian entitlement aligns with the real benefits. These changes, or any other modifications to the treaty storage operations, will involve challenges and the need for cooperation between the Northwest states, tribes, and federal agencies, as well as between power, irrigation, fish and wildlife, recreation, and other concerns. The U.S. Entity intends for this review to be transparent, open, collaborative, and inclusive among the sovereigns, tribal, state, and stakeholder interests.
posted Feb 10, 2011The idea that all parts of life are interconnected is an ancient motif found in mythology, religion, art, and science. It’s also a concept central to a recent report on the importance of food webs to the health of the Columbia River Basin ecosystem. As lead report author Dr. Robert J. Naiman puts it, “food webs fuel that ecosystem,” underpinning the productivity and resiliency of the basin’s fisheries.
The three key areas of concern: whether the system can produce enough of the right food at the right times to maintain thriving populations of native fishes; the effects of non-native species on food supply; and the proliferation of contaminants and chemicals in the watershed.
Until now, the Council, NOAA Fisheries, tribes, and other state agencies haven’t really focused attention on changes to food webs, assuming that conditions have been relatively favorable and stable. But as the ISAB report indicates, changes to the basin’s food webs are widespread and appear to be affecting the aggregate carrying capacity of the river to produce wild fish.
“The question of the carrying capacity of the river was something we hadn’t really considered before,” says Naiman. “Are we overlooking the impact of competition for food between native fish and hatchery fish and other non-native species?”
The report was undertaken by the Council’s Independent Scientific Advisory Board in late 2009 to help understand the role of aquatic food webs in the basin and how they affect native fish restoration efforts. The Council’s fish and wildlife program strives to establish and maintain an ecosystem that sustains an abundant, productive, and diverse community of fish and wildlife.
The impact of massive annual releases of juvenile fish from hatcheries appears to be taking a toll on stocks of wild fish. About 130 - 150 million hatchery salmon and steelhead are released each year, and according to the report, “The thousands of metric tons of food used to raise them, as well as the hundreds of thousands of metric tons of natural foods required to maintain them in the river, affect the capacity of the Columbia River to support naturally produced native fishes.”
Added to this is the proliferation of non-native plants and animals, creating so-called “hybrid” food webs. According to Naiman, “There are so many non-native creatures that are part of the system now; realizing the magnitude of their impact is a new reality.”
“While not completely clear, it sure looks like we may be exceeding the carrying capacity of the river, and that was a big surprise.”
The growing presence of contaminants in the river system is another enormous factor affecting the health of food webs. “We were stunned by just how much is in the watershed,” says Naiman. “These chemicals, from pesticides to personal care products to medicines, disproportionately affect food webs, especially the small, but essential organisms at their base. We know so little about them, yet they could be a lynchpin in whether or not restoration actions succeed.”
For Naiman and his associates on the report, the ultimate message is clear. “We’re at a turning point, and we need to understand that 10 or 20 years from now, there is a high probability that we may be looking at a vastly different ecosystem. We need to ask ourselves if the restoration actions in place now will still be viable, and will they still make sense.”
posted Feb 1, 2011The rebound effect refers to the fact that as energy efficiency increases, products that consume energy become less expensive to operate, which in turn causes even more energy to be used. This is a topic that's received lots of attention lately thanks to an article that appeared in the December 20, 2010 edition of The New Yorker magazine, The Efficiency Dilemma by David Owen (subscription required). While there doesn’t appear to be disagreement that the rebound effect is real, there's a strong difference of opinion on the degree that it reduces the efficiency savings of any given energy-efficient product.
What does the Council think about the rebound effect?
The Council’s staff economists agree that the rebound effect exists, and they've always taken it into consideration in their efficiency analyses and demand forecasts. However, the Council estimates that the effect is not substantial and that total electricity consumption is still decreased by improved efficiency.
Owen claims that although U.S. air conditioners became 28 percent more efficient over that 12-year period, residential air conditioners increased energy consumption by 37 percent. The problem with Owen’s analysis is that he appears to be confusing the rebound effect with economic development. Claiming that the growth of air conditioning penetration is due to improved efficiency of the equipment ignores the whole impact of growing affluence and income that is probably the major driver behind the growth of air conditioning market penetration.
So, while the rebound effect is real, it isn't the only factor, and certainly not the main factor, behind increased energy consumption. The important question to ask is how much higher consumption would have been if efficiency hadn't been achieved.
posted Jan 27, 2011Following up on an earlier post, Brian Marotz, of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks has been working with Dr. Jack Stanford at the University of Montana Biological Station and other didymo experts to better understand this diatom that's growing below Libby and Hungry Horse dams.
According to Marotz, "Some researchers aren't very concerned about didymo because it's believed to be cyclical." Montana fish and wildlife managers thought so, too, over 11 years ago when the dense blooms began to grow in the Kootenai.
"The diatom does have annual growth and death cycles, but it hasn't dissipated, and it's getting worse, even when we attempted to flush the river with planned dam discharges," notes Marotz.
"We're now documenting the widespread loss of most aquatic insect species where these nuisance blooms occur in the Kootenai and South Fork Flathead." Although there are a number of factors involved, Marotz says that fish populations have apparently declined or moved elsewhere for food.
"Like others, I hope these blooms simply disappear, but they haven't to date. We need to learn what makes didymo flourish and how we might control it."
posted Jan 21, 2011A recent story in Greenwire (subscription required) highlighted a debate over the benefits of subsidizing compact florescent bulbs. When the California Public Utilities Commission released its evaluation of Pacific Gas & Electric's incentive program for CFLs last year, evaluators found it was difficult to determine the energy savings. Peter Miller of the Natural Resources Defense Council explains the problem: "...none of the complicated statistical analyses used to try to estimate the net-to-gross ratio [the number of CFLs that would have sold without the program] produced a useable result." In the end, they were forced to use their "best judgement," which meant a much lower estimate of savings.
Also, PG&E believes they over-estimated the lifespan of an average CFL bulb when they created the program. They're finding the number is closer to 6.3 years instead of 9.4 years, which also lowers their estimated savings. As a result, some have questioned the effectiveness of the program and whether incentives are worth the investment.
Miller's analysis gives an in-depth look at California's situation. In the Pacific Northwest, we take a different approach. The Council's Regional Technical Forum is an advisory committee established in 1999 to develop standards to verify and evaluate efficiency savings. The RTF's analysis of CFL savings and lifespan estimates that the average life of a CFL is 5-6 years and that 1 in 3 lamps sold will be stored. Using the RTF's more accurate estimate would have helped lessen the gap between the projected and actual savings. "Had they used our numbers, they would be in less of a fix," says Tom Eckman, conservation resources manager for the Council.
"Because California utilities can only claim 'net' savings," says Eckman, "the folks who evaluate the programs have to estimate how many CFLs would have been purchased if the utilities hadn't offered incentives. This means they have to 'measure' what happened in an alternate universe, and not surprisingly, there could be some disagreement over their findings."
"We just try to measure how many total CFLs got installed and not fret over a fictional world," notes Eckman.
And so, as the Greenwire story concludes, "Researchers for the utilities commission plan to overhaul future incentive programs in an effort to evaluate utilities' success based on their technology installation rates instead of direct energy savings."
posted Jan 18, 2011At the Council meeting last week in Missoula, Brian Marotz of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks described a recent phenomenon below Libby and Hungry Horse dams: the proliferation of a form of invasive algae called didymosphenia gemenata, also known as "rock snot" and didymo. Didymo was first reported in New Zealand in 2004 where it's become a significant problem. It's also been found in North and South America.
According to Marotz, the plant has the potential to cause great harm to habitat and fish by choking out the insects that fish feed on. Very little is known about why didymo is growing near the dams. It was first noticed below Libby Dam several years ago, and then below Hungry Horse about three years ago. Marotz noted that research is underway to better understand didymo's effect on habitat and how to address the problem.
"For some reason, it's proliferating," says Marotz. "It's alarming because now were starting to see a reduction in fish numbers as a result."
posted Jan 15, 2011In an earlier post on the Columbia Grid's study on wind integration we included a link that doesn't connect to the study--just to information on the study team. Apparently, the paper hasn't been finalized yet and isn't available to the public right now. We think it might be released in a few weeks, so stay tuned--we'll post it as soon as it's available. Thanks for your understanding.
posted Jan 5, 2011One of the trends to come out of all the wind power that's been developed in the Pacific Northwest the last several years is an increasing surplus of generating capability. Or, to put it another way, we have the ability to generate more energy than we need.
Historically, the combination of high springtime runoff and low demand has led to episodes of excess energy in the region. The recent large-scale development of low-cost wind power appears to be adding to the frequency and magnitude of these events. Constraints on spill, which can cause trauma to migrating fish, may require that wind production be curtailed during these episodes. However, financial incentives encouraging wind plant operation complicate this decision.
The growing surplus can contribute to lower electricity market prices, the reduced value of hydropower energy, and the increasing frequency and severity of excess energy events.
Some of the key findings in a recently released paper on this issue by the Council include:
- Developing resources to meet state renewable portfolio standards tends to increase excess energy events
- Additional wind development to meet renewable energy credits outside of the region (California) will probably also increase the frequency of these events
- Good water years increase the probability of these events, and poor water years lower the probability of their occurring
- Aggressive renewable portfolio standard targets and financial incentives lead to qualifying renewable resources being developed before they are actually needed, which drives down the average market price of other resources
- Hydropower is especially affected, with its value disproportionately reduced
"We think there are legislative solutions available that will allow hydro project operators to maintain dissolved gas standards, yet leave wind plant operators economically whole," says Jeff King, senior resource analyst. "In the longer term, we should take actions that will help us to use both wind and water power during extreme energy events."
The Council is seeking comment on its paper until January 31.
posted Dec 6, 2010The Council interviewed Pat Reiten, president of Pacific Power at PacifiCorp for the upcoming Council Quarterly. Here are some highlights:
Q: PacifiCorp has worked to include renewable energy into its resource portfolio, most of it wind. What renewables will the company be focusing on in the future? What are the principal issues with developing them?
Reiten: We've been more active than any other utility in the region, and in the nation, in adding new renewable resources. Since 2006, we've invested more than $2 billion in wind facilities in the West, all added within the last four years. The challenges of developing renewable power are finding appropriate, cost-effective sites and developing transmission to bring the power to the grid. And variable wind power also needs equivalent backup power to be available when the wind isn't blowing. As a result, in the last four years we've added two natural gas plants...More will need to come as we look to meet load while integrating additional renewables.
Beyond wind, the company has a geothermal plant in Utah and has bestowed grants to dozens of small-scale, community-based solar projects--primarily through our Blue Sky renewable energy program...We have more than 1,000 customers in Oregon using solar energy through net metering agreements. We have dozens of customers using Oregon's solar incentive tariff to build their own solar generation. We recently put out a request for proposal for a utility-scale solar project. More solar and much more distributed generation is in our future, and that's a good thing.
Q: How do you view utility development of energy efficiency as a resource?
Reiten: We strongly support energy efficiency efforts throughout our service territory...As a utility, we look at these tools in three basic ways: Energy efficiency allows our customers to manage their uses and costs, and that is increasingly important given the state of the economy...efficiency measures are critical components of our Integrated Resource Plan, which is the long-range tool we use to determine how we will produce and deliver energy. If we can reduce the need for new capital deployment and dampen the overall growth curve of new energy generation, that helps us and helps our customers. Energy efficiency also reduces overall emissions and assists in reducing environmental impacts, both for our customers and for us as a utility.
Q: Reducing our reliance on coal plants will become increasingly important if we're to meet carbon reduction goals. PacifiCorp is long on coal plants. What is the company's strategy for reducing carbon production? How does energy efficiency fit into those plans?
Reiten: We've been investing for several years in emissions reduction technology, both in accord with, and in some cases, exceeding, state and federal emissions reduction requirements. Over the last three years, we've stopped adding coal resources to our generation mix. New coal plants are completely out of our plans, and we are currently evaluating existing plants in terms of their future cost-effectiveness. We see the next round of generation build to be a combination of new natural gas, wind, and transmission projects. Carbon reduction will also entail additional investment in energy efficiency, as well as distributed generation and the scaled growth of geothermal, solar, and biomass technology.
posted Oct 26, 2010Earlier this month, the Columbia Grid Wind Integration Study Team released its report on the economics of developing wind resources close to load centers compared to developing wind sites in Montana and Wyoming.
In general, the study found that wind power developed locally is more economical for Northwest coastal loads because of the huge transmission costs associated with connecting remote wind generation.
The study summarizes the conclusions from a variety of other studies, including the Council's Sixth Power Plan.
For now, constructing long-distance transmission for remote wind resources doesn't appear to be cost-effective unless the transmission is relatively low-cost, short, or has additional benefits.
The research on this on ongoing, and we'll update as new information comes out.
posted Sep 30, 2010This year has been a positive one for salmon, especially sockeye salmon. By mid-August, the run of sockeye up the Columbia River was the highest since Bonneville Dam was completed in 1938 and annual counting began.
The run of spring Chinook returning to the Columbia was strong as well, adding to a pattern that may bode well for the future. According to biologists, favorable ocean conditions, habitat restoration, updated hatchery practices, and fish-friendly improvements to dams have all helped.
The resurgence of Snake River sockeye, an endangered species, is especially heartening. The Council, Idaho state, Shoshone-Bannock Tribe, NOAA Fisheries, Bonneville Power Administration, and others have been working for 20 years to rebuild the sockeye population. Only four years ago, when just three fish made the 900-mile trek from ocean to spawn in the mountain lakes of central Idaho, the Council's Independent Scientific Review Panel recommended ending the sockeye program. But the Council, Bonneville, and others stuck with the fish, backing the hatchery program.
This year, 1,400 or more are estimated to spawn in Redfish Lake in central Idaho, which will be the most since 1956. And the news for fish returning to the upper Columbia River is also encouraging, with one qualification. The run splits, with fish returning to the Wenatchee River and Lake Wenatchee and fish returning to the Okanogan River and its headwater lakes in British Columbia. As many as 90 percent of returning sockeye are Okanogan fish. The reason for the discrepancy is unclear, but the Wenatchee run was one of only two Northwest sockeye runs to do poorly this year; the other was Lake Washington. Still, in British Columbia, the estimated sockeye return of 120,000 to 140,000 is one of the largest since 1938.
Bill Tweit, Columbia River policy lead for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, noted that three mid-Columbia public utility districts--Douglas, Chelan, and Grant--have adopted performance measures for fish survival through their dams. A combination of spill and the construction of passage facilities have made a difference.
"Even though they have not uniformly achieved the measures, they have made significant progress," says Tweit. "Undoubtedly, those improvements played a role in these excellent returns."
posted Sep 23, 2010Here's a preview of an interview with Bill Drummond of Western Montana Electric Generating and Transmission Cooperative, which will be in the upcoming Council Quarterly.
Q: As a four-state entity, the Council approaches energy planning from a regional rather than an individual perspective. What value does this regional perspective provide for small, rural utilities?
Drummond: The true value of the Council's power plan is that it sets a regional benchmark against which all individual utility plans can be compared, and it quantifies the cost of not working together. As I mentioned earlier, it can't replace utility planning, and individual utility resource choices will inevitably differ from those contained in the Council's plan, but it stands as a benchmark against which all others are examined.
The power industry has a tendency to adopt a "flavor of the month" approach to new resources. In my career, I've seen utilties veer from temporary addictions to nuclear, coal, market purchases, combustion turbines, and now wind; each being the next great resource. The Council's plans have forced us to momentarily consider our addiction to whichever "resource of the month" is in favor in the light of all potential resources, including efficiency. While I've disagreed with some of the resource portfolios adopted over the years, I do believe that all Northwest residents have benefited from the Council's planning process.
Additionally, the structure of the Council itself means that states serving large populations of rural and smaller-utility residents have an equal voice with more populated, urban states. This has proven especially useful in guaranteeing that the concerns of the rural areas of the region are considered and addressed.
Q: Where would you like to see the region and your members over the next 10-15 years?
Drummond: Regionally, I'd like to see resolution of the Gordian Knot that currently bedevils the construction of new transmission. There is no doubt that additional transmission investment is necessary; the challenge is figuring out how to pay for it. Until we can negotiate long-term contracts that will guarantee the repayment of transmission investments, few projects will get built and we will potentially build more generation than would otherwise be necessary.
I would also like to see more joint investment by public power and the investor-owned utilities in transmission, generation, and energy efficiency. I think the largely failed experiment in retail deregulation caused our interests to diverge more than necessary.
For my members, we will continue to work closely with other Bonneville customers to ensure that the Federal Columbia River Power System continues to be a reliable and cost-effective base load resource. A positive resolution of the ongoing Bi Op litigation is a very important step. We need to get out of the courtroom and focus on the prudent management of the substantial investment that Bonneville customers are making to fulfill their stewardship obligations. I'm confident that my members will husband the low-cost Tier 1 resources they will be purchasing from Bonneville by continuing to invest in energy efficiency; the Tier 2 alternatives will certainly provide a direct price signal for that. Second, I would like to see a substantial portion of their Tier 2 requirements that are not served by increased efficiency come from resources they are purchasing and building equity in. I want to make certain that new technologies are embraced and deployed in their territories just as they will be in urban areas. Finally, I would like to see my members maintain the close relationship they have enjoyed with their consumer/owners since they were formed. This has been, and will continue to be, among their greatest strengths.
posted Sep 2, 2010In 2009 we interviewed Idaho Senator James Risch for the Council Quarterly on a number of topics, including the state of the region's energy portfolio.
Q: The Northwest's long history of generating electricity from hydroelectric dams, combined with our acquisition of nearly 4,000 megawatts of energy efficiency over the past 30 years has kept our power rates low and reduced our reliance on fossil fuel. But Idaho and other parts of the Northwest are now sometimes net energy importers when demand exceeds available regional supplies. Do you believe we have the right mix of hydropower, energy efficiency, renewable energy resources, and dispatchable thermal baseload power in our current power system?
Risch: The unique nature of power generation in the Northwest highlights why any national plan would be harmful to our region. We have long exploited clean sources of power. Incredibly, people in Washington, D.C. don't see falling water as a renewable resource. They don't see our biomass as a renewable resource and, of course, it is all for political purposes to advertise their own part of the country to our disadvantage. This is our reward for the good stewardship we have shown.
The fact that we sometimes import energy from other regions is due in part to regulations crafted by Washington, D.C. bureaucrats that make it easier to build a new coal-fired plant than to upgrade a hydroelectric facility. If you care about air quality, that isn't right. Every time a zero-emission dam needs to be relicensed, environmental lawsuits hold up the process. We had to fight tooth and nail to even get hydroelectric power into the dialogue. Some of my Senate colleagues think a piece of wood off of federal land isn't a renewable resource but a piece of wood off of private land is. So it's hard to argue that a policy crafted in Washington, D.C. would be good for the Northwest when Washington, D.C. has no appreciation of our stewardship.
We have a good mix right now, but we need more of all of the above to meet our future needs. We can increase the amount of electricity from hydropower sources by upgrading equipment or adding turbines to existing dams. That should be a no-brainer. It wouldn't emit any pollutants into the atmosphere. We also have existing biomass resources that could provide baseline power to the region, but those attempts are opposed by people who claim to want "renewable" energy which they limit by definition to wind and solar. We can add immeasurably to energy by constructing nuclear power plants. Again, if we are cleaning up the air, let's actually get it done.
posted Aug 26, 2010Interest in demand response, which enables consumers to adjust their electricity use when the power system is stressed, has sharpened recently thanks in part to its potential to help integrate wind energy into the power system.
Traditionally, demand response involved enlisting interested consumers who were willing to reduce their electricity use during peak energy periods or when prices spiked, usually for a few hours at a time.
The Bonneville Power Administration and several utilities are partnering on pilot projects to test the ability of demand response to help manage the electricity grid and integrate wind energy into the system. To integrate wind energy, the rest of the power system needs to be able to increase production when wind generation drops off and decrease production when wind increases to keep the system in balance. Some demand response load could provide the flexibility to help in this integration by reducing electricity use at peak times and also storing the wind's power at a moment's notice.
"Not all demand response load can be used to respond to the variation in wind's output, " notes Ken Corum, senior economist for the Council. "But appliances like water heaters and space heaters, or cold storage plants have the ability to absorb that energy when it needs to go somewhere."
"Two years ago, there was very little going on in this area," says Corum. "The growth in wind power development in the region has definitely heightened the interest in demand response as a possible tool to make wind work in our system."
The pilot project that the Council is helping to sponsor is funded largely by the Bonneville Power Administration and will test the ability of things like water heaters and cold storage plants to balance wind generation in the power system. The project is expected to begin in late 2010 and end in 2012.
"And, if these pilot projects prove successful," notes Corum, "it should also help to lower the cost of integrating renewable resources into the power system."
posted Aug 18, 2010In July, several experts in the operation of the power systems of Denmark, Germany, and Spain gave presentations on how their countries handle integrating large amounts of wind and solar power. Because of their variable nature, these renewable resources can present unique challenges for power systems.
These countries have aggressive government policies to develop renewable resources and reduce carbon emissions, and as a result, they've achieved a high degree of renewables in their energy mix. Wind and solar represent 24 percent of the total installed generating capacity in Spain; 27 percent in Germany, and 28 percent in Denmark. In comparison, the Bonneville Power Administration's balancing authority has 10 percent, and for the Pacific Northwest as a whole, 9 percent.
Some key features that have helped integrate variable resources into their systems are:
- Robust and fluid power exchange markets that access the full balancing capability of these systems
- Strong interconnections and common business practices among transmission system operators enabling them to share balancing reserves
- Wide geographic distribution of wind and solar facilities resulting in less volatility than in the Pacific Northwest
- Sophisticated wind forecasting
While these TSOs have been successful in integrating large amounts of renewables, some of the emerging issues as more variable resources come on line include:
- Increasing episodes of over-generation
- Increasing frequency of negative wholesale prices
- Increasing volatility of wind and solar output
- Transmission congestion
- Increasing penetration of uncontrolled generation
- High wholesale power prices compared to the Pacific Northwest
While we're unlikely, in the short term, to duplicate the institutional structures that have helped these TSOs successfully integrate variable renewable resources, we can work to improve things like our forecasting, transmission, access to balancing reserves, and the geographic diversity of facilities that will help accommodate increasing renewable development.
The wind integration forum has the latest information on how the region plans to do this.
posted Aug 11, 2010In an earlier post, we talked about how batteries could help to integrate renewable resources like wind and solar energy into the power system.
In another twist on this, Oregon Public Broadcasting is reporting on an unusual partnership between a high-tech battery company and a company that freeze-dries peas.
What's the connection? A new technology for creating a smaller and much more efficient battery involves freeze drying. And Oregon Freeze Dry, which freeze dries peas, is extremely good at this key process.
The $21 million factory in Albany, Oregon plans to produce a high quality carbon to make ultracapacitors that will be used in electric cars.
Gerry Langler with Oregon Venture Partners, one of the financial backers of the project, describes how they would work:
If you have a hybrid car today...you are using your braking power to recharge the batteries. The problem is that the power generated when you brake is so high the battery can't take it fast enough. So you don't actually get the benefit of all that potential energy from the braking process. But if you had an ultracapacitor sitting between your brake and your battery, the ultracapacitor could grab that power really fast, and then slowly feed it to the battery in a way that the battery could accept it.
It's another example of how technology is improving efficiencies in well-known applications.
posted Aug 3, 2010Two years ago, we had the pleasure of talking with Theddi Wright Chappell, the managing director for Cushman & Wakefield's National Green Building and Sustainability Practice and Valuation Services team in Seattle, Washington. Chappell specializes in analyzing the potential value of sustainable development. Here's an edited version of our interview:
Q: How do you get to the hard numbers, how do you get to quantifying sustainability?
Obviously, energy is one of the most tangible ways; I refer to it as the low-hanging fruit of these sustainable initiatives because it's more easily quantified. But there are ways beyond just energy, things to look for in terms of maintenance, operating expenses, in terms of improvement costs, the types of tenant improvements that are done: Are they more flexible, do they take more or less time to complete, down time between leases? If in fact there is greater tenant satisfaction, does that mean they will stay in one place longer and are they more likely to renew their lease? So you're going through the same questions you would ask with a traditional property, but being sensitive to some of the reasoning that goes into a tenant's decisionmaking.
Q: It seems to cover a broad range of things, starting with energy-efficiency, but including air quality and the health of the building in a sense.
Right, well, I think it comes down to a really basic concept: What do we value? What makes something valuable? I talked with a property manager this morning and she is just seeing a tremendous shift in the types of things that peopel are asking for. Tenants are asking for LEED-certified buildings. They're asking for things to be LEED certified when they don't even know what that means. What they're asking for is a better work environment. And they've heard that that is what LEED certification means. If you've got a right-sized, high-performing air system, then technically, it's a healthier place. People hear about that and it's attractive. People always want to go where the grass is greener, and if given an option, I think most people would choose to work in what they consider a healthy environment.
Q: I was talking to a smaller developer who does sustainable work here, and one of the things he mentioned was that it's fun for them to do this kind of development, they have a passion for it.
Well, you feel like you're doing the right thing. Doing the right thing should get the right results, which should be as much or more profit. And I think, if in fact this becomes the prevalent mentality--building a high quality product--then everyone will benefit from it: the building inhabitants, the owner, the developer, it will go all the way down the chain. Everyone wants to save money, but it's how you save it. And if you save it through greater efficiency, through more thoughtful design and construction, that's a whole lot different than just spending less on something else.
posted Jul 28, 2010Interesting story in today's New York Times on using batteries to store electricity:
The rapid growth of wind farms, whose output is hard to schedule reliably or even predict, has the nation's electricity providers scrambling to develop energy storage to ensure stability and improve profits.
The intermittent nature of renewable resources like wind is one of the challenges here in the Pacific Northwest, where wind development has grown at a fast clip.
According to Jeff King, senior resource analyst, cost-effective battery storage technologies could be hugely beneficial to wind, solar, and wave development. "Batteries could level the output of intermittent renewables, which would help integrate them into the power system," says King.
"And if batteries were installed at the generation plant site, the leveled output would improve transmission loading, reducing the cost of transmission to access remote renewables."
Other qualities that make batteries a potentially attractive option are their modular, small-scale nature, and siting flexibility. Their small size makes rapid technological improvement possible through production economies and the ability to deploy "just the right amount of storage"--not too much and not too little--at the power plant site.
The Council's power plan recommends exploring technologies like battery storage and calls on identifying research and development needs for the most promising options.
posted Jul 26, 2010One of the interesting trends noted in the Council's Sixth Power Plan was the region's shift from a winter-peaking power system to summer-peaking. This is happening primarily because more homes use air conditioning.
Among other things, Northwest energy planners consider three things to make sure we will have enough electricity:
- the management of our "fuel"--the water stored behind the dams
- winter and summer hourly needs
- resources that can be turned on or off as needed
According to John Fazio, senior power systems analyst, the latest assessment showed that the region would be on the cusp of not having enough resources by 2015 to meet the anticipated increase in summer-peak demand.
"When we see we're that close to a shortfall, we review our data and our methodology to make sure it's accurate and that we're not missing anything," says Fazio.
According to Fazio, the summer problem is getting worse. Air conditioning is more common these days, and while summer peaks in electricity use are not as high as winter peaks, there's less power available in the summer. River flow is lower and spill requirements for fish reduces electricity generation as well. Reserve requirements for wind power also take a toll on the hydrosystem.
"Summer is a peak time for energy use in the Southwest, which means we're not likely to import power from California," says Fazio.
Finally, there is the impact of climate change to consider. Warmer temperatures over the long term--say 20 years and beyond--will decrease demand in winter but increase it in the summer, exacerbating an already worrying trend.
"It's a real shift for energy planners," says Fazio. "We're just not used to thinking about summer problems in the Pacific Northwest; but that's the growing reality."
posted Jul 23, 2010California is in the midst of an intense debate over its ambitious clean energy initiatives. In 2006, Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law an emissions reduction measure known as AB 32. The law includes both a statewide cap-and-trade plan and aggressive renewable resource targets. Opponents have since launched a campaign to roll back the state's landmark climate change legislation through Prop. 23, also called the California Jobs Initiative. Prop 23, if passed in November, would suspend implementation of AB 32 until the state's unemployment level goes below 5.5 percent for four straight quarters. California's current unemployment rate is 12.5 percent.
In addition to this, the Legislature is also considering SB 722, which would establish a statutory 33 percent requirement for both public-owned and investor-owned utilities and includes stricter delivery requirements for resources coming from outside of California. For example, it appears to mandate that at least 75 percent of new (post 2009) renewables be either directly interconnected to California's ISO or dynamically scheduled into California's system.
The implications, at least initially for the Northwest, are somewhat mixed. Tighter requirements on bringing renewable electricity into California responds to a lot of the concerns raised in the region about exports going to meet California's RPS targets. (See earlier posts)
"Because it limits tradable renewable credits to 10 percent of a utility's portfolio, it should will help limit the amount of 'null' energy dumped into the Northwest market," says Jeff King, senior resource analyst for the Council. "It should also encourage transmission expansion, either through efficiencies in the existing system or through new construction," he adds. And dynamic scheduling--when resources in one balancing area are used to balance generation and load in another balancing area--would enable California resources to be used to balance wind generation in the Northwest.
All of this is likely to increase the cost of wind power from the Northwest, making other renewables like solar thermal from the Southwest more attractive to California utilities and perhaps slow the pace of wind power development here.
Still, notes King, mandating the 33 percent requirement to all utilities, not just investor-owned, provides more certainty of future demand than the current law, which could encourage investment in the Northwest-California interties to bring wind generation into California.
Overall, the bill acts as an incentive to improve wind generation transactions between the Northwest and California, either through greater coordination between balancing areas or transmission enhancements.
We'll be tracking the implications of all this for the Northwest, so stay tuned.
posted Jul 15, 2010What began with the discovery of a non-native species of mussels in the Great Lakes has now become a major source of alarm for Western states. The small, thumbnail-sized mollusks were brought into U.S. waters by ocean-going vessels from Eastern Europe and the Ukraine in the late 1980s and have wreaked havoc on the Great Lakes ecosystem and economy. The zebra and quagga mussels clog water intake pipes and distribution systems, starve fish populations, and spawn noxious algae outbreaks polluting the Midwest's shores.
But what took decades to develop in the Great Lakes has bloomed exponentially here in the West. Quagga mussels were first found in Lake Mead, Nevada in early 2007, probably via a pleasure boat. The creatures attach to any surface, except copper, and their microscopic larvae are easily transported downstream in water currents or in water distribution systems. Hardy and prolific, the warmer Western climate has enabled quagga mussels to reproduce much faster than in the Great Lakes. With few natural predators in the U.S., they have already colonized the lower Colorado River system, and have now spread into California, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado. State and federal officials fear it's only a matter of time before these invaders contaminate the Columbia River Basin.
The Council's Independent Economic Analysis Board has just released a report on the potential economic impact of a widespread zebra or quagga mussel infestation in the basin. According to the report, "Under suitable conditions, [these] mussels can expand in numbers and locations with astonishing speed." Scientists also believe that calcium levels play a critical role in their growth and viability, which means they could thrive in some parts of the basin but not in others.
The report, which has been widely anticipated, gives the latest information on the economic risks to the region should they become established here, as well as recommendations for research and policies to limit their damage.
posted Jul 9, 2010
Several weeks ago, a couple of thought-provoking stories came out: Paul Greenberg's Tuna's End in the New York Times and Adam Frank's Inventing the Fish: Science and the Collapse of Ecologies on NPR. Both explore the limits of natural resources and, consequently, the limits of science to recover what we've lost.
Writing about the bluefin tuna, Greenberg movingly observes:
All fish change color when they die. But with tuna the death shift feels more profound. Fresh from the water, their backs pulsing neon blue, their bellies gleaming silver-pink iridescence, they seem like the ocean itself. And in a way they are, which explains the second reason bluefin have come to possess such totemic power. For bluefin tuna and all species of tuna are the living representation of the very limits of the ocean. Their global decline is a warning that we just might destroy our last wild food.
It's a story we know all too well in the Pacific Northwest as we struggle to bring back salmon, our own iconic fish.
In 1988, The Northwest Power and Conservation Council adopted a proposal designating some 44,000 miles of Northwest streams as protected areas because of their importance as critical fish and wildlife habitat. The amendment was a major step in the region's efforts to rebuild the fish and wildlife populations damaged by hydroelectric development, in no small part because it acknowledged the fact that in order to meet the Council's goal of increasing salmon and steelhead runs in the Columbia River Basin it would be necessary to protect the best remaining habitat.
The Council adopted a single standard of protection: no new hydroelectric development should be allowed in protected areas. While the Council doesn't license hydroelectric development, federal agencies like the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Bonneville Power Administration have a legal obligation to take the Council's action into account in their decisionmaking.
In his piece, Frank quotes a student plaintively asking, "Can't we just invent a new fish?" And he subsequently notes that, "Put simply: We believe that whatever the problem science will fix it." But ecologies are not so easily fathomed, much less controlled.
Designating an area as protected is a decisive act, affirming the value of a resource apart from human benefit and an admission that it is perishable.
posted Jul 7, 2010In 2008, we had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Richard R. Whitney for our newsletter. From 1974 to 1979, he served as technical advisor to the Hon. George H. Boldt in the United States District Court for Western Washington during the difficult implementation phase of the decision in United States v. the state of Washington. Here's an abridged version of his answers to a few key questions.
Q: Can you explain the significance of the Boldt decision and what role you played?
Whitney: In 1974 Judge Boldt handed down his decision in the case the United States v. the state of Washington. At that time it was more popularly known as the Boldt decision and has been commonly referred to as such ever since. The government sued the state because they weren't observing the Indian treaty rights; that was their claim. Well, they prevailed in court.
One of the first situations that I found myself in in court was when the tribes complained that the Washington Department of Fisheries had not allocated them their proper share, their 50 percent of the coho salmon migrating through Puget Sound. So they had the assistant director of the Washington Department of Fisheries on the stand, and the tribal attorneys were asking him all kinds of questions that he was very good at answering. But they didn't know how to ask the right questions to corner him. And he didn't know how to answer within the boundaries of the decision, because the boundaries hadn't been established yet--50 percent of which salmon? So, after more of that questioning, there was a recess and the tribal attorneys were huddling and muttering amongst themselves, "We're going to charge him with perjury; he's contradicting himself and just trying to duck the questions."
I said, "No he isn't, he's smarter that you are. You don't know the right questions--there are only three of them. Ask him how many coho are entering Puget Sound; ask him how many have been caught already by the non-tribal fishery; and ask him how many are required for spawning. We can figure out the difference between the run size and how many have been caught." And they said, "Those are good questions, but we don't want to ask them." And the guy from Washington's Department of Fisheries said, "Well, I don't want to ask those questions either." So I went to the federal man from the solicitor's office, and he said, "Those are very good questions and they'll help the judge, but I don't want to ask them."
Q: Why didn't they want to ask the questions?
Whitney: Because that would put them, the tribal attorneys, in the awkward position of looking like they were saying that the state's doing all right; that there is still 50 percent of the fish left depending on where you're counting them. And looking at the total entering Puget Sound, which was all we had to go by, that there were still harvestable numbers remaining. They were afraid that their clients would not be pleased with that outcome. The state guy had his own motives, and the federal guy didn't want to offend the tribes. So I found myself up there with the attorneys questioning a witness. I asked my questions, he answered them, and just as I suspected, the numbers showed there were still harvestable fish. I presented the conclusion that there are still harvestable numbers available to the tribes and that they should be able to take 50 percent. Judge Boldt took my recommendation and went with it.
Q: What made this decision so important?
Whitney: There had been lawsuits over the years, ever since the treaties were negotiated in the 1850s, a whole set of them at various places involving various tribes. The tribes reserved the right to fish in their usual and accustomed places. It was only years after that, when the number of settlers began to increase and they started to build fences and establish ownership, that they tried to exclude the tribes from their properties. Well that's just one example, and generally speaking, the courts dodged a bullet for all those years until Judge Boldt came along. Judge Boldt's groundbreaking step was the 50 percent provision. He figured you had to specify what the share was or it was meaningless.
posted Jul 2, 2010One of the ways we expect to meet our future energy needs is through improved efficiency, and a linchpin to achieving this is innovative lighting. For over a century, Thomas Edison's incandescent light bulb has been the dominant lighting product. In recent years though, compact fluorescent bulbs have become popular and now, with a new generation of lighting technology at hand, the end may be in sight for this 19th century invention.
The Council's most recent power plan identified lighting as a major new source in efficiency savings: "...recent advances in solid-state lighting--light-emitting diodes (LED) and organic light-emitting diodes (OLED)--appear to offer significant opportunities for savings in televisions and some lighting applications."
The demand for consumer electronics--from televisions to computers--is booming. It's one of the fastest growing segments of electricity use in the region. And the trend is toward both more televisions per household and televisions with larger screens, which increases energy consumption. According to the Council's analysis, if this continues, by 2015 over 90 percent of the televisions sold will have screen sizes exceeding 32 inches.
To meet this burgeoning demand, transitioning from plasma and liquid crystal display (LCD) screens to LED and OLED screens is essential. LED televisions already on the market consume 40 percent less energy than LCD models, and they produce a higher quality picture to boot.
Globally, the push has been to move beyond the incandescent bulb. A number of countries, including Australia, the European Union, and the U.S. have all passed laws restricting the sale of incandescent light bulbs. Alternatives like c0mpact fluorescent and halogen lights are currently available, but it might not be too long before we see LED and OLED lights for home use, too.
And there are researchers who think the energy-efficient incandescent could be a future contender. So who knows? The only sure thing is that the race is on to make, or re-make, the 21st century light bulb.
posted Jun 28, 2010Last winter, we interviewed Congressman Peter DeFazio for our quarterly newsletter and he gave his views on a number of issues from future energy legislation to the federal government's biological opinion. Here's his take on nuclear energy.
Q: In the late 1970s and early 1980s you played a significant role in halting the construction of four nuclear power plants that were backed by the Washington Public Power Supply System and strongly subsidized and supported by the Bonneville Power Administration. As you know, Bonneville ratepayers continue to pay hundreds of millions of dollars each year in debt service on two of those unfinished projects, as well as the debt service and operational costs of the one completed plant. Given this history that you know so well, what is your reaction to President Obama's efforts to reinvigorate the nation's commercial nuclear industry with newly designed and inherently safer facilities? Have your views on nuclear energy changed over the years, especially in light of the heightened concerns over climate change and the desire to reduce fossil fuel consumption?
DeFazio: The only resurgence in nuclear power is a political one. Despite more than $150 billion in federal subsidies over the past several decades (30 times more than solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources), nuclear power is still more expensive than other sources of energy and could not compete if only market forces were at work. If not for the massive nuclear loan guarantees passed in 2005, utility companies would not risk the investment in nuclear power. President Obama's expansion of these loan guarantees only digs us deeper in bad energy policy.
The WPPS fiasco taught the Northwest region the true value of nuclear power, but other issues continue to plague this technology. Even in the unlikely event that the Yucca Mountain repository ever accepts nuclear waste, it will be full in a matter of a few years with just the radioactive waste from the currently operating nuclear power plants. And renewable sources of energy such as wind, geothermal, and solar do not result in a dangerous proliferation problem like nuclear power.
Finally, nuclear power is not a very cost-effective way to displace carbon. According to the Rocky Mountain Institute, increasing energy efficiency is seven times more cost-effective than nuclear power when it comes to displacing carbon. For example, it costs approximately $10 billion to build a nuclear power plant. If that $10 billion were instead spent on energy-efficient appliances, insulating older homes and buildings, or fuel-efficient cars, it would cut carbon emissions by seven times the amount that the nuclear power plant would.
posted Jun 23, 2010There are some animals that just capture your imagination. The Kootenai River white sturgeon is one such creature. It appears like a relic from prehistory, growing as long as 20 feet and weighing over 1,500 pounds, with a long snout and spiky carapace. Michael Jamison of the Missoulian notes in his story on the sturgeon that it's "...a fish some joke may be more closely related to triceratops than trout."
No wonder we're fascinated with the fish: They're like visitors from another time, a vision of something monstrous and eternal. Yet they're gentle giants that mature slowly and can live for over 100 years.
And the sturgeon found in the Kootenai are extra-special as Jamison writes: "...12,000 years ago, at the end of the Pleistocene, retreating glaciers left behind another barrier--Bonnington Falls, high on the border of Idaho and British Columbia. The upstream population found itself landlocked, trapped between the two waterfalls, and slowly diverged into a unique species known as Kootenai River white sturgeon."
Revered by the Kootenai Tribe as mystical harbingers, the tribe has been working to prevent the species from becoming extinct. Their habitat project is hoping to improve the water velocity and temperature of the river, as well as enhance the river habitat.
The tribe, which raises sturgeon at a hatchery near Bonner's Ferry, estimates that fewer than 1,000 wild adult sturgeon remain in the river.
Sue Ireland, fish and wildlife director for the tribe, said juvenile fish raised in the hatchery are surviving when released into the river and are spawning. But, says Ireland, the eggs don't mature. "The eggs may be suffocating in the sandy, embedded substrate, and the hard substrates that they need aren't present in this reach."
The project has had to balance its goals with a number of other interests, from the federal government to the state of Montana and private landowners. Still, while the odds are long, the tribe's goal is clear. "We hope to set the stage so we address the needs of the existing population while making sure that everything is in place so that as the young fish mature, they will spawn successfully," says Ireland.
posted Jun 21, 2010Last week a group dedicated to promoting energy efficiency in the Northwest met for the last time. The goal of the Northwest Energy Efficiency Taskforce was to draft an action plan to acquire efficiency and identify who should do what. The recommendations include improving data analysis and communication among partners.
Identifying where the next big energy savings will come from was another important topic of discussion. Compact fluorescent light bulbs have been a key reason we've achieved the large amount of efficiency we have in the last few years. So where will the next round come from?
A group of stakeholders has identified two key areas of interest: lighting and HVAC. As noted in the Council's Sixth Power Plan,"... recent advances in solidstate lighting--light-emitting diodes (LED) and organic light-emitting diodes (OLED)--appear to offer significant opportunities for savings in televisions and some lighting applications. The arrival in the U.S. market of ductless heat pumps for space heating also provides new savings opportunities."
Other areas to develop: expanding awareness of energy efficiency through online communities and social media. as well as an outreach campaign to consumers.
While NEET no longer exists, the work will continue to make sure the region meets its energy efficiency goals. We'll keep you informed on our progress.
posted Jun 14, 2010We've been talking about the challenges that California's renewable energy goals pose for the Northwest, and last week the region's utility community had an opportunity to meet with California industry representatives to discuss the issues and find ways to work together to identify and solve problems.
Here are some key facts:
- Governor Schwartzenegger's 2009 executive order sets a goal of 33 percent renewable energy by 2020. In order to meet that standard, the Bonneville Power Administration estimates that California will need an additional 7,599 megawatts of capacity. That's a significant amount to achieve in 10 years.
- Since wind requires additional reserves to integrate it into the power system, some companies, like Iberdrola, are beginning to move toward delivering a "full product," that's to say, wind that includes integration costs.
- Another issue is what to do when there is more wind power than load. Two options are simply curtailing production and improving within-hour scheduling.
- New technologies may also help to make renewable energy more dispatchable.
In the end, it seems that everyone is on the same page in terms of understanding what the challenges are, and perhaps most importantly, wanting to make sure that both regions meet their respective energy goals. As one California participant noted, "We don't want Northwest customers to subsidize wind."
posted Jun 9, 2010We interviewed Montana's Governor Brian Schweitzer for our next newsletter coming out soon. Here's a preview as he talks about what Montana is doing to pursue energy efficiency.
Q. The Council’s regional power plan identifies improved energy efficiency as the highest priority because of its low cost, low environmental impact, and high job creation potential. What is Montana doing to make sure that the energy efficiency identified in the plan is being acquired by government, utilities, and consumers?
A. Energy efficiency provides the best homegrown defense against high-energy prices and it produces the quickest results. Energy-efficient houses keep us warmer while saving money, especially for those who are forced to choose between food and medicine or heat. Energy-efficient cars make citizens less subject to the supply disruptions associated with hurricanes and international politics, and an energy-efficient state provides good paying, clean-energy jobs. Shortly after taking office in 2005, we announced the Warm Homes Warm Hearts program, which used Youth Conservation Corps workers to weatherize thousands of low-income and senior houses across the state.
State government will continue to focus resources on energy efficiency through both direct assistance to Montana’s lower income families and support of industries, businesses, and practices that promote energy efficiency. We already have a good start with our state facilities. Montana was one of the first states to adopt a renewable energy portfolio (15 percent by 2015), having done so in 2005. It was also one of the first states to adopt the new energy-efficiency building codes.
We also launched the 20 x 10 initiative in 2008 with a goal of reducing natural gas and electricity use in state government facilities by 20 percent by the end of 2010. The reduction will come from a combination of investments in building renovations, changes in building operations, and improvements that individual employees make in their daily work. In addition to the energy savings from state facilities, state government agencies have been charged with applying a Montana CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) standard moving the state vehicle fleets to achieve an average of 30 miles per gallon or better, with the exception of industrial vehicles and pickups needed for state work. To date, our overall CAFE achievements are 31mpg, and when we exclude industrial and pickup mileage, our current CAFE is 33 mpg. Many agency and motor pool vehicles are being replaced as they wear out with hybrid vehicles or other high-efficiency cars. Schools, universities, businesses, and communities have been encouraged to join in the effort. Montana is leading by example, and Montana is making a difference.
There are opportunities to increase energy efficiency and create good jobs along the way. Consumers are benefitting from state tax credits for home energy improvements and rebates on appliances. About 9,000 rebates are expected to be provided to consumers that replace old refrigerators, freezers, washing machines, and clothes washers in the next few months. Local governments are also benefitting with 56 grants to be awarded this spring. The grants are primarily for upgrading lighting, replacing heating systems, and other building retrofits. Recycling grants were made available to 15 local government or private recycling companies to reduce the energy to manufacture new products. Individual consumers and small businesses are benefitting from an additional $1.2 million available for small, renewable-energy system loans, and a few businesses will get grants to adopt renewable energy technologies that are not in general use in the state of Montana. The state has also recently upgraded a portion of its school bus fleet to new, energy-efficient, low-emission buses.
posted Jun 7, 2010In an earlier post, we talked about how California's quest for renewable energy has meant that a growing portion of the wind energy developed in the Northwest is going to our neighbor to the south.
While there are challenges associated with this trend, here are some of the steps that the Bonneville Power Administration is taking to help make the growing amount of wind power work in the Northwest's system.
Right now, less than 15 percent of the wind energy capacity connected to the Bonneville Power Administration's transmission system serves Bonneville customers. California gets most of the region's wind energy and renewable energy credits. By the end of the year, Bonneville expects that almost half of the wind capacity on its system will be owned by, or under contract to, California utilities.
Over the last several months, Bonneville has explored a variety of actions like building new substations and reinforcing existing transmission to increase its system capacity to integrate the large amount of wind power coming on line in the Northwest. It has also proposed expanding Northwest-California transmission capacity and limiting the use of renewable energy credits, except for wind developers helping to address transmission challenges.
While Bonneville is working hard with developers and California utilities to find solutions, it's also willing to make tough decisions. In 2009, Bonneville imposed a new, mandatory requirement on its transmission customers that allows the agency to curtail wind project output or temporarily halt transmission schedules to other transmission balancing authorities when the hydropower reserves set aside to balance wind approach depletion. It's also working with the California Independent System Operator and others to increase the supply of power reserves.
Bonneville also expressed concern to the California Public Utilities Commission about the potential impact on salmon and steelhead if Columbia River hydropower is used to balance wind power transmission to California.
posted May 3, 2010Brad Zengar of Pivotal Investments stopped by the office to talk about what his company does in the realm of emerging energy-efficiency technologies. As noted in an earlier post, Pivotal is a Pacific Northwest venture capital firm interested in small businesses here that show promise as innovators.
According to Zengar, the region is uniquely positioned to be a leader in the clean energy race because we've already built a significant foundation of achievement in energy efficiency.
"We've done a lot not because it's the cool thing to do, but because it's part of our ethos."
Carbon uncertainty, which is a huge factor right now, along with growing demand for electricity and fuel are creating attractive markets that meet the criteria for venture capitalists.
"Energy efficiency is becoming a very prominent area for venture-capitalist firms," says Zengar. "Investment in efficiency technologies surpassed solar start-up in 2009."
While U.S. VC investment in cleantech companies declined in 2009, energy efficiency investment rose.
According to a report by Ernst & Young, VC investment directed almost 6 million to energy efficiency projects for the year.
"Energy efficiency is the sweet spot of many venture capital investors in terms of skill sets and funding parameters, particularly given its basis in information technology. Consequently, we may see investor participation in cleantech broaden," says John de Young, Ernst & Young's associate director, Americas Cleantech Network.
posted Apr 6, 2010When we say wind is an "intermittent" resource, we mean it. This Bonneville Power Administration graph shows the output of wind generation for a seven-day period and how quickly it can "ramp" up or down. As you can see, the afternoon of April 2 shows quite a large spike. It gives you a good idea of how quickly this resource can affect the system, and why it's so important to have access to other resources that can be quickly decreased or increased to compensate for its unpredictability.
The Council's Wind Integration Forum has been working on solving some of the challenges to adding large amounts of this resource into the region's power system.
posted Mar 29, 2010In a recent power committee meeting, Charlie Grist, senior analyst, shared news about a Northwest venture capital firm looking to invest in the "emerging sustainable economy." Pivotal Investments is the region's first venture capital firm to target opportunities in the renewable energy and energy-efficiency industries.
"We've always looked to collaborate with utilities to help meet the region's energy-efficiency goals," says Grist "But the private sector is another area to partner with, too."
Grist is in the process of arranging an informal meeting to hear more about their goals and interests, and for them to hear about what the Council does. We'll report back on what we find out.
posted Mar 24, 2010Three Pacific Northwest states have adopted renewable portfolio standards, but it may be that our neighbor to the south, California, will end up having the biggest impact on the region. California's renewable energy policies are some of the most aggressive in the nation, and the state has worked for many years to develop its own renewable resources. It's now reached the point where California utilities have to look outside the state to satisfy their renewable portfolio goals.
Renewable energy credits (RECs) enable utilities to purchase the environmental benefits of renewable energy wherever it's generated. Most of California's utilities would like to use RECs as much as possible because it expands their market and could also eliminate some of the transmission costs to deliver the power from outside the state.
"We're already seeing 'the California effect,'" says Jeff King, senior resource analyst at the Council. "Roughly 50 percent of the wind power that was developed in 2008 and 2009 in the Northwest was either owned by California utilities or is contracted to them, and credits in excess of Northwest needs are being sold to California utilities from projects owned by, or contracted to, Northwest utilities."
It's a trend that's expected to continue into the future, says King, where we'll see California taking an increasing proportion of the Northwest's renewable resource generation to meet it's own RPS targets. But what happens to the electricity if it doesn't go with the REC? There's concern that it could end up in the Northwest power market, depressing power prices.
"In almost every one of these issues," says King, "there's a positive side and a negative side." Low power prices help Northwest utilities that need to purchase energy, but the same low prices reduces revenue for utilities with a good supply of resources to sell.
An increase in renewable energy development in the region is a good thing from the perspective of renewable resource developers, and for landowners who lease their land to wind power developers. It also benefits counties, usually in rural areas where a lot of wind farms are sited, by expanding their property tax base and increasing their property tax revenue.
On the other hand, notes King, we're already seeing controversies arise from the aesthetic and environmental impacts from expanded resource and transmission development in the region.
For the consumer, a lot will depend on the business practices and philosophy of the consumer's utility. Northwest utilities that are fairly aggressive in developing renewables on their own and selling RECs to California are able to generate revenue that may reduce electricity costs. It also puts them in a good position when it comes time to meet their own targets. For utilities that wait until they have to purchase renewable energy, they may find themselves in a situation where competition from California for those resources has driven up prices.
Since wind generation is the leading renewable now and the forseeable future, there's also the question of who pays the cost to integrate it into the power system. Its intermittent nature means it needs flexible back-up resources to keep the system in balance. The point of concern is to make sure that the entity that needs these services pays for it. This includes allocating carbon impacts.
"It's a complicated combination of policy and technical issues that we don't fully understand," says King, who will be working on an assessment of all these issues for the next several months. Stay tuned.
posted Dec 18, 2009 by Carol Winkel
In a recent Newsweek column, science editor Sharon Begley made the blunt observation that "Scientists are lousy communicators." The piece was about the public's growing skepticism about climate change, but she asserts that the problem is connected as much to the scientists's "abysmal communication skills" as to anything else.
Her comments resonate because I know how difficult it is to communicate complex information in a way that is easily understood. The Council finally approved its regional power plan in February, but not until after a lengthy internal and public process.
One of the challenges when you work in a particular field, whether it's technical, scientific, or even relatively specialized, is that the very language used by those "in the know" is often completely opaque to the layperson. I'm talking about jargon. Not a useful way to communicate if you're trying to reach a broader audience.
And it's not just the words; just as often, it's the communication style. Rather than keeping things as concrete and simple as possible, we mistakenly think that more is better: more information, more detail, more pages. But a clearly made point only needs to be made once.
Part of the problem may be, as Guy Kawasaki noted in an interview in the NY Times, that we're conditioned in school toward meeting certain page counts. "In school, you're always worried about minimums. You have to reach 20 pages or you have to have so many slides or whatever." But in the real world, it's just the opposite. In real life, you need to get to the point, not bury it.
A researcher at University College London writing about cognitive fluency cited a study that found "...as the text became more complicated, readers gave lower estimates of the author's intelligence."
As one master of the message, Steve Jobs, put it, "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."