Smart Grid NW Hosts Symposium on Demand Response

posted Sep 20, 2016


The Council’s Seventh Power Plan found that demand response — when utilities pay customers to use less electricity when the power system is stressed — is the least-cost solution for providing new peaking capacity. It helps balance the system by reducing peak demand, shifting loads, and helping integrate resources like wind and solar into the system.

The Council recommends that at least 600 megawatts be developed to meet the region’s peaking and system adequacy needs. To help make this a reality, Smart Grid Northwest is hosting the Demand Response Symposium, in collaboration with the Council, the Bonneville Power Administration, regional utilities, demand response providers, and other stakeholders.

The symposium will also include the participation of the Pacific Northwest Demand Response Project, which since 2005 has been the primary forum for researchers, regulators, and utilities to share information, build best practices, and overcome barriers to demand response in the Northwest. The conference is targeted for leaders at regional utilities who want to learn more about developing and implementing demand response.

Follow updates on the symposium on social media using hashtag #NWDR16

The Council has recently formed a demand response advisory committee to help the region develop the recommended demand response resources identified in its power plan. It also plans to form a system integration forum to coordinate its analysis of DR resources, along with other emerging technologies such as energy storage, distributed generation, and smart grid advances, which could integrate existing resources more effectively across the grid. As the region continues to focus on lowering carbon emissions, evaluating the value of these alternative resources, and how best to implement them if they prove cost-effective, will be important to maintaining the reliability and affordability of our power system.



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Fun With Sturgeon

posted Sep 20, 2016

"Scooter," a replica sturgeon, was part of the Council's display.

A six-foot fiberglass sturgeon, coasters in the shape of the toothy mouth of a Pacific lamprey, temporary sturgeon tattoos, a sturgeon coloring page, and a big map of the Columbia River Basin were all part of the Council’s interactive display at this year’s sturgeon festival in Vancouver, Washington. The annual September event, designed for families, attracted more than 400 people to the city’s Water Resources Education Center on the Columbia River on a rainy Saturday.

The festival, a partnership between the city and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, informs people about sturgeon and Columbia River ecosystems and offers a variety of opportunities to learn about fish and other animals in and around the Columbia River. The Council took the opportunity of the festival to explain the work underway on behalf of sturgeon through the Council’s Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program. And also, of course, to have some fun with children and their parents – showing the size of the Columbia River Basin, talking about the dams and species of fish and wildlife found throughout the basin, passing out the stickers, tattoos and coasters, and using the model to show the unique features of sturgeon.

Patrick Cooney, Julie Harris, and Evelyn with a sturgeon age chart

Historically, sturgeon in the Columbia system were highly migratory – they were capable of going hundreds of miles up the Columbia and to and from the ocean during their long lives. Sturgeon can live more than 80 years and grow to weigh more than a ton. Some populations are land-locked, either because dams block their passage to the ocean or, in the case of Kootenai River white sturgeon in northern Idaho, they were isolated by geologic upheavals thousands of years ago.

Hydropower dams have adversely affected sturgeon by altering the velocity and timing of river flows, which are important for spawning. Sturgeon also are susceptible to changes in water temperature, and the turbidity and depth of the water, all of which are affected by dam operations. The Council’s fish and wildlife program devotes about $13 million annually out of a roughly $260 million budget to mitigate the impacts of hydropower dams on sturgeon, most of it on the Kootenai River population, an endangered species. Only the population downstream of Bonneville Dam, the only Columbia Basin sturgeon whose passage to the ocean is not blocked, is considered healthy.

Council Fish and Wildlife Division staff member Lynn Palensky with visitors to the Council's display

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Do Customers of Rural Utilities Have Higher Electricity Bills?

posted Aug 31, 2016


The Northwest has over 100 different utilities, many of them in small, rural communities. How do their electricity bills compare with urban utility customers? 

The Energy Information Administration collects information each year about how much electricity utilities have sold, to how many residential customers, and the revenue collected from those customers. Cross-referencing with data the Census Bureau collects in the American Community Survey we determined if utilities served predominantly urban or rural customers. Using these data for the Northwest, you can see that urban utilities tend to have lower bills than rural utilities. 

Figure 1 - Average residential bills of urban vs. rural Northwest utilities

Looking at the rates shows that the cost per megawatt-hour isn’t significantly different. But, rural customers tend to use more energy. Natural gas heating is less common in rural communities, so many rural customers use electricity for heating. This contributes to the difference in energy use.

Figure 2 - Residential rates of urban vs. rural Northwest utilities

Also, while rural utilities are often publicly owned, and therefore have access to low-cost power from the Bonneville Power Administration, they tend to have higher costs to deliver electricity because their customers are more spread out.

Check out more in-depth analysis on electricity bills in the Northwest--see the Council’s recently released draft report.


Do Customers of Northwest Investor-owned Utilities Have Higher Electricity Bills?

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Montana Wind Generates More Power When The Region Needs It, But Can We Get It?

posted Aug 17, 2016

Montana wind farm

There’s been a lot of excitement about Montana wind generation in the power industry recently. Montana wind tends to be stronger and blows more often than Columbia Gorge wind. 

But, of the nearly 8,700 megawatts of wind generation in the region, under 700 megawatts are in Montana and just over 5,700 megawatts of wind power is sited in the Columbia Gorge. If Montana’s wind resource is so promising, why isn’t there more?

Where you site a wind plant matters

To keep the lights on, the power system must match electricity demand with supply moment to moment. So wind generation that can meet peak demand tends to be more valuable. Natural gas, coal, nuclear and, to some extent, hydro power can be scheduled and stored and used when needed. Since wind can’t be scheduled to exactly align with electricity demand, locating it in a place where the wind blows at around the right time is crucial. 

Electricity use peaks in the Pacific Northwest during the late morning and early evening hours in winter. Preliminary analysis shows that Montana wind generation is a much better match with our winter peak demand than Columbia Gorge wind generation. Comparing a wind plant of the same size in both places, the Montana wind plant will usually generate more than a Columbia Gorge wind plant. 

More power at the right time seems like a good deal. Why build in the Gorge versus Montana?

Transmission drives wind development

A resource needs transmission to be useful. The main wind corridor of Montana has several transmission lines going west to Seattle, Spokane, Boise, and Portland, but they’re currently reserved for other power sources. By comparison, Gorge wind generation is close to the high capacity transmission lines built for Columbia River dams. These existing lines had available space, which enabled the rapid expansion of Columbia Gorge wind. 

Building more transmission is a difficult prospect, both economically and politically. So, unless space opens up on existing transmission lines or we build more lines, Montana’s vast wind potential will remain mostly untapped.

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Renewables in a Shifting Energy Landscape

posted Aug 15, 2016

Boise City Solar Farm

“Today’s electric energy choices reflect a reversal from yesterday’s economics of power” – Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s First Power Plan (1983)

I don’t know how the Northwest grid will operate 10 or 20 years from now. I know that there have been challenges and opportunities associated with both the economics and operation of the grid as wind and solar generation increase, both in this region and in neighboring regions. 

One of the challenges with wind and solar generation is that the amount of generation you get in any hour depends on the weather. But there are promising solutions that could help address that challenge. I also know that this region has overcome tremendous challenges in the past. 

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s Seventh Power Plan sets forth a resource strategy that relies on energy efficiency and demand response as the primary resources through 2021. From 2021 to 2035 it becomes increasingly likely that additional resources will be needed to replace generation from retiring coal plants and to comply with state requirements to build renewables. 

I was recently at a meeting where a presenter was going through all the disruptive changes that will completely alter the utility industry in the next decade or two. He enthusiastically said that an industry that hadn’t significantly changed for the last 100 years would be completely transformed. I’m not sure about his view of the future, but I am confident that his view of the past is misguided at best. 

A quick read of the introductions of the seven different plans completed by the Council will give you an appreciation of the ever-changing circumstances in the regional power system. Every plan has emphasized the uncertainty inherent in planning for the future. And, sure enough, each plan since the first has seen shifts in economics and technology that were unexpected or unlikely in the preceding plans. Since the first plan, the Northwest has navigated the consequences of billions of dollars wasted on nuclear power plants that were never completed; market deregulation; the West Coast energy crisis; several recessions; and a roller-coaster ride on electricity and natural gas market prices. 

In the Seventh Power Plan, as with the previous six power plans, we do have limited projections about how technology will change in the future. But as long-term planners, we also take a cautious approach to assessing these potential changes by reassessing them frequently. We emphasize balancing short-term actions with long-term consequences. History has taught us the folly of making large bets on something that may or may not happen years from now. 

Limiting our view of how technology will evolve may limit the solutions considered, especially when looking 10 years or more into the future. That’s why within 5 years of the release of the Seventh Power Plan, we will start the process of writing the Eighth Power Plan. This cycle of planning ensures that the power plan is accurate and robust and realistic for the near term. 

New tools to help integrate new resources into the grid, renewable or otherwise, are under development; as they become mature, we will be ready to include them in our plan to maintain an adequate, efficient, economical, and reliable power supply. But to avoid expensive mistakes, we rely on mature technology in the Seventh Plan’s resource strategy. 

Meeting the challenges of integrating renewable generation into our power system has the potential to increase its value to the region. And the next power plan, as in past plans, will map a strategy that includes the best tools available, with an eye to what’s on the horizon. 


Why We Have a Regional Power Plan


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Cold Water Refuge

posted Aug 11, 2016

Building on a Legacy Resource

posted Aug 5, 2016

Salmon Smorgasbord

posted Jul 14, 2016

Tapping Into Geothermal Energy

posted Jun 21, 2016

Fish And Warm Water Don't Mix

posted Jun 20, 2016

Going, going, almost gone

posted Jun 7, 2016

Early Warning System

posted May 27, 2016

In the (Efficient) Spotlight

posted Apr 25, 2016

The Mystery of Swan Lake

posted Apr 13, 2016

A boost for northern pike removal

posted Apr 13, 2016

They're back, and they're hungry

posted Mar 23, 2016

Warm ocean, small salmon: Why?

posted Mar 7, 2016

Seventh Power Plan Homestretch

posted Dec 15, 2015

Touring Baker Dam

posted Jul 8, 2015

Forest Fires and Fish Habitat

posted May 19, 2015

This Plan Is Your Plan

posted Apr 30, 2015

Lunch and Learn With the Council

posted Mar 31, 2015

Scenario Analysis Begins

posted Feb 11, 2015

Scenario Analysis Is Coming!

posted Jan 22, 2015

"The Objectives Process" begins

posted Dec 11, 2014

Why We Plan for Uncertainty

posted Nov 19, 2014

Why We Have a Regional Power Plan

posted Oct 29, 2014

Estimating Energy Efficiency

posted Oct 24, 2014

Seventh Power Plan 101

posted Oct 6, 2014

BPA Energy Efficiency Funding

posted Mar 12, 2014

Weathering a Cold Snap

posted Jan 17, 2014

The Seventh Power Plan

posted Dec 11, 2013

Designing for Efficiency

posted Nov 12, 2013

The Flexibility Challenge

posted Oct 30, 2013

Northwest Q & A: Robert D. Kahn

posted Oct 29, 2013

Tagging Sturgeon in Astoria

posted Aug 22, 2013

Habitat Tours Focus on Results

posted May 31, 2013

Sustainability Is Success

posted May 29, 2013

A Last Look at Condit Dam

posted Oct 24, 2011

Changing Minds, Changing the Land

posted Jul 26, 2011

Wind Power, Then and Now

posted Apr 18, 2011

The Rebound Effect: Is It Real?

posted Feb 1, 2011

An Update on Didymo

posted Jan 27, 2011

Didymo: A New Kind of Invader

posted Jan 18, 2011

A Good Year for Returning Salmon

posted Sep 30, 2010

Building a Better Battery

posted Aug 11, 2010

Using Batteries to Store Energy

posted Jul 28, 2010

Growing Summer Energy Demand

posted Jul 26, 2010

California's Energy Scene

posted Jul 23, 2010

Ensuring Efficiency

posted Jun 21, 2010

Making Wind Work

posted Jun 7, 2010

Clean Tech Draws VC Funding

posted May 3, 2010

And the Wind Came Up

posted Apr 6, 2010