Energy Efficiency Exchange 2018 - Call for Topics

posted Sep 20, 2017


On May 15th and 16th of next spring, energy efficiency professionals from across the region will descend on Tacoma, Washington for Energy Efficiency Exchange 2018. This conference is convened by the Bonneville Power Administration and the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, with sponsorship from the Council. We’re in the midst of planning and would love to hear from you.

From now until October 31, 2017, the EFX18 planning team is inviting members of the region’s efficiency community to submit ideas for discussion topics for breakout and opening/closing sessions, as well as suggestions for session and keynote speakers.

The Efficiency Exchange brings individuals from a wide array of organizations to network, share information, and drive the Northwest’s efficiency ecosystem. Representatives from public and private utilities, consulting and research firms, nonprofits, and government organizations will discuss topics at this conference to help shape the future of efficiency in the region. If you have an idea for what you would like included in this dialogue, submit it here.

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The Electric Utility Industry in a Changing World

posted Aug 23, 2017


The electric utility industry, a historically stable business, is in transition. On many fronts — from technology advances to clean energy initiatives — the sector is grappling with what it means to be an energy provider in the 21st century and how to reform an old business model

In order to get a better grasp of the big picture, the Council invited Phil Jones, former member of the Washington Utilities and Transmission Commission and former president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissions, to share his perspective on some of the trends driving change.

Key Trends

  • Flat load growth — less than 1 percent per year nationally
  • Government policies mandating renewable resources
  • Electrification of transportation
  • Low-cost natural gas from fracking
  • Distributed resources — from rooftop solar to electric vehicles and smart thermostats — giving consumers more choices and control over their energy consumption
  • Large corporations acquiring their own resources

In this new world of low or declining loads and increasing self-generation, the rate of return regulation, which gives utilities an incentive to build resources in order to increase their profits, may no longer be viable. The challenge for utilities is how to provide customers with want they want while still being able to pay for the costs of the system and make a profit.  

Regulation Reform

Many states are grappling with this question — California and New York are at the forefront, for example. The Department of Energy’s national labs and other academic institutions are also focused on regulation changes. Jones noted that there are two sides: Some people believe that the regulatory framework is here to stay, while others think that innovations will enable transactive energy, like the telecommunications industry.

“I don't see this going the way of telecommunications,” said Jones. “I think we’ll see more performance-based regulation similar to what Great Britain has done.  

“These reforms give incentives and penalties for doing certain things, and help ensure that goals like decarbonization, security of supply, modernizing aging assets, and affordability are met.”




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Innovations in Irrigation Efficiency

posted Aug 22, 2017

Canola field in Central Washington

How important is irrigation in feeding the world's population? With population growing over 100 million each year, we'll reach 9 billion people by 2050. To feed these many people, it could take two Earths, said Fred Ziari, a water resource and irrigation entrepreneur, in his presentation to the Council's power committee.

Meeting the global demand for affordable food is a crucial challenge for today's farmers, and increasing irrigation efficiency is key. 

Large-scale farming in Eastern Oregon and Washington, which uses the most advanced technologies in the world, leads in efficiency of water use at 95 percent irrigation efficiency. Eighty percent of their produce is exported. The goal, said Ziari, is to increase water management efficiency throughout the Columbia Basin to 90+ percent. 

Today's farms tend to be much larger enterprises that rely on technologies to increase yield for more diverse crops. The trend is toward precision irrigation, which uses a variety of technologies from robotics and drones for planting, cultivation, and harvesting to the design of large, centralized pumping stations.

One of the newest techniques is variable rate irrigation that uses a combination of software and hardware to irrigate the right amount of water to specific areas of a field. Data from sensors monitoring soil moisture, weather stations, and other user-defined information helps optimize water use for savings of 10 - 15 percent and energy savings of 10 - 20 percent.

"It used to take 30 to 40 people to manage 10,000 acres," said Ziari. "Now one person can run it using a mobile app."

Irrigation can also be used to help balance the power system through pumped storage--especially micro storage, demand response, and small hydro generation.

The Council and the Bonneville Power Administration are working together to quantify the value of demand response, and the Council is bringing stakeholders together to share ideas on how to overcome barriers to implementing it. "Pilot projects would be a good start," said Ziari. "We should be leading the world in this area."

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Budget Uncertainty

posted Aug 18, 2017


Sunshine in California may have a chilling effect on the budget for projects that benefit fish and wildlife in the Columbia River Basin.

That’s because the wholesale power market on the West Coast increasingly includes large amounts of inexpensive, surplus renewable power from California, particularly solar. At times, this has the effect of driving down prices and making surplus power marketed by the Bonneville Power Administration from its system of 31 federal dams and one non-federal nuclear plant uncompetitive. Bonneville is the primary financier of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program, which has an annual budget of around $250 million. Revenue from surplus power sales is an important part of Bonneville’s budget, including the fish and wildlife program budget.

While Bonneville is committed to continuing funding the program at current or slightly higher levels next year and in 2019, that’s not a given at this time because of “significant uncertainty,” Bonneville’s executive manager of the Fish and Wildlife Division, Bryan Mercier, told the Council at a meeting this month. Sources of that uncertainty include the potential for reduced surplus power sales, possible increased fish and wildlife mitigation costs associated with Endangered Species Act litigation, development of a court-ordered environmental impact statement on Columbia and Snake river federal dam operations, and the potential costs associated with the soon-to-expire Columbia River Fish Accords if they are renegotiated.

As inexpensive renewable power pours into the West Coast wholesale market, Bonneville’s power increasingly is overpriced, Mercier said.

“This is a concern,” he said. “We could lose customers. Tradeoffs and tough decisions may be necessary.”

2017 has been a challenging, if manageable, year for Bonneville, he said. The fish and wildlife budget “is tracking very closely to where we were last year through the end of July, and that’s a good thing from our perspective.” But he added, “our financial situation is not as solid as we had thought. Secondary [surplus power sales] revenues were not materializing as we expected, and so we looked for cost savings – actively balancing the budget. We will continue to actively manage the budget, but I suspect the [Fiscal Years] 2018 and 2019 budgets will be adjusted,” he said.

He said project-funding decisions will focus on existing priorities and commitments; on-the-ground work with direct fish and wildlife benefits before research and monitoring projects; contracting for essential Program work elements; limiting travel, training, and conference attendance; and on projects that demonstrate results and performance.

Bonneville also is focusing attention on project contracts, looking for savings that might help offset future budget cuts. “This year we are trying to capture as much as we can at the contract level,” Mercier said. “We’re asking our contracting officers to be more engaged, asking pointed questions about why a project is needed and what it will accomplish. We want to find those opportunities first.”

He said if the cost-savings effort continues to keep the budget in check, the agency should avoid having to initiate a cost-recovery adjustment clause.

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Toxic Habitat

posted Aug 18, 2017

Cleaner habitat means healthier fish. NOAA Fisheries photo.

Among the myriad impacts that reduce salmon survival, from poor feeding conditions in the ocean to degraded habitat in freshwater and dam-passage impacts, one that is receiving increasing attention is the impact of chemical pollutants that degrade water quality and cause physical and biological changes that affect the health and viability of fish. Scientific research is creating a clearer picture of where pollutants are in the Columbia River Basin and how they affect fish.

“We consider toxic chemical pollution a form of habitat degradation,” Nat Scholz, director of ecotoxicity research at the NOAA Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, said in a presentation to the Council this month. Research is focusing on broad questions about how the accumulation of toxic substances in fish habitat, both sediment and water, affects fish health, distribution, and abundance.

Literally hundreds of toxic contaminants affect habitat and fish, including insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, hormones from pharmaceuticals, and a ubiquitous group of chemicals called Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) that are released from a variety of sources including incomplete combustion of coal, oil, and gasoline, and also from vehicle exhaust, wood smoke, and tire particles. All of these chemicals, which tend to persist in the environment, can kill aquatic organisms that occupy an important link in the food chain for fish and, once ingested by fish, can damage the heart, liver, brain, and nervous system.

Pollution occurs everywhere there is human activity; however the amount and type of pollutants varies among land uses. For example, industrial chemicals are more prevalent near and downstream of urban areas, while agricultural pollutants are often found in areas affected by runoff to streams from farm fields.

The good news is that much can be done to reduce the impacts, and some of the best solutions are not very expensive. For example, one source of PAHs is tire particles that wear off on roadways and then are washed into storm drains or fish-bearing streams. Permeable surfaces in parking lots and driveways and vegetated catchbasins along streets and parking lots are able to capture and hold PAHs and other chemicals. Increasingly, polluted runoff is being captured in these ways, reducing direct pollution of water bodies.

A rain garden can capture polluted stormwater runoff before it reaches fish-bearing streams.  NOAA Fisheries photo.

“Most of the progress on toxics will be local,” Scholz said. Through university extension services and state and tribal governments, “science is informing local landowner-led efforts to reduce pollution,” he said.

The Council’s Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program notes growing concern about toxic contaminants degrading habitat and water quality and supports habitat actions to decrease the migration of toxic contaminants by reducing erosion and sediment transport to waterways. The Program also includes a provision for the Council to “assist regional parties in advancing public education and information on toxics issues.” To that end, the Council’s Fish and Wildlife Division staff hosts a regional workgroup comprising state and federal fish and wildlife agencies and tribes to raise awareness of the impacts toxic contaminants have on fish, wildlife, and habitat. As part of that effort, a publicly accessible map will be developed to display information on known toxic contaminants. For the initial mapping effort, the workgroup chose to highlight Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are widespread in the Columbia River Basin.

The workgroup compiled all readily available data on PAHs in the basin, and organized those data for the map. At the August meeting, the Council agreed to fund development of the map by QW Consulting of Portland.

Vehicle exhaust and tire particles are important sources of PAH pollution in stormwater runoff.

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Low Fish Returns? Blame the Blob

posted Aug 17, 2017

Deep Decarbonization

posted Aug 17, 2017

Reconnecting a River

posted Jul 13, 2017

Recovering Chum Salmon

posted Jul 13, 2017

Ocean Power

posted Jun 15, 2017

Research Revision

posted Jun 15, 2017

Sturgeon Research

posted Jun 15, 2017

Wildlife Haven

posted Jun 13, 2017

More Sea Lions, Fewer Fish

posted Jun 9, 2017

Efficiency Exchange 2017 Recap

posted May 23, 2017

Wet Winter

posted May 17, 2017

Protecting Cold Water Refuges

posted Apr 18, 2017

Fish Head Bounty

posted Mar 24, 2017

Fish Forecast: 'Not Very Good'

posted Mar 15, 2017

Fish Tools

posted Mar 13, 2017

Sea Lion Fish Feast

posted Mar 1, 2017

Lamprey Rescue

posted Feb 16, 2017

Unveiling the Estuary

posted Feb 15, 2017

Mussel Strategy

posted Jan 23, 2017

A Plan for Scientific Research

posted Jan 19, 2017

Flat Loads

posted Dec 20, 2016

Mussel Alert

posted Dec 16, 2016

Repeat Spawners

posted Dec 16, 2016

Moving Fish Over High Dams

posted Nov 16, 2016

Megawatt? A Powerful Question.

posted Oct 20, 2016

Fuel Of The Future?

posted Oct 18, 2016

Powering the Internet of Things

posted Oct 17, 2016

Storable Power

posted Oct 17, 2016

The Blob Is Back

posted Oct 11, 2016

Old Door, New Opening

posted Oct 6, 2016

Fun With Sturgeon

posted Sep 20, 2016

Cool Relief

posted Sep 15, 2016

Upper Columbia Salmon Habitat

posted Sep 14, 2016

No Gain

posted Sep 14, 2016

The Invasion Strengthens

posted Sep 13, 2016

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