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Lingering Blob

posted Jan 17, 2018

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This map shows the "ridiculously resilient" high pressure ridge that caused the blob, a mass of warm water in middle of the North Pacific Ocean. Map: NOAA Fisheries.

One size does not fit all when trying to understand salmon survival in the Pacific Ocean, Laurie Weitkamp of the NOAA Fisheries Northwest Fisheries Science Center, Newport, Oregon, office, told the Council in a report in January.

And the unique life history characteristics of each species can be further complicated by changing and sometimes hostile conditions in the ocean, as has happened in recent years as the result of a warm water anomaly known as The Blob.

Normally, each species uses the ocean differently. They enter the ocean at different times, go to different places, eat different things, and return to the Columbia River to spawn after spending different amounts of time in the ocean. Collectively, this determines their ocean survival, that is, how many fish return to spawn as adults.

For example, juvenile spring Chinook, chum, sockeye, and some coho move rapidly northward along the continental shelf to the Gulf of Alaska, where they will feed and grow. Fall Chinook and some coho, by comparison, remain in local waters off the coasts of Washington and Oregon. Steelhead are the long-distance travelers of the anadromous fish world, heading rapidly straight out into the ocean directly west and traveling sometimes nearly to Russia. Steelhead tagged as juveniles at the Dworshak National Fish Hatchery in Idaho have been caught in driftnet fisheries off the coast of Japan.

When they return as adults, Columbia River fish follow similar patterns, Weitkamp said. Fall Chinook, and possibly chum and sockeye travel south along the Continental Shelf from the Gulf of Alaska. Coho travel north along the coasts of California and Oregon, and steelhead and Spring Chinook tend to move rapidly onshore from west to east to the mouth of the river.

Complicating this already complex mix of life histories, atmospheric and ocean conditions can affect salmon survival and the availability of food. The warm water anomaly known as The Blob, a mass of warm water in the middle of the North Pacific, formed in the winter of 2013/2014 and created a ridge of high pressure over the northern Pacific that was “ridiculously resilient,” Weitkamp said. The practical effect of The Blob was to create warm, low-nutrient surface waters, which left much of the ocean a food desert for Columbia River fish. Many juvenile salmon are believed to have starved. By January of 2018, maps showed sea surface temperatures had returned to normal, but the damage had been done and its effects continue.

There was a broad response to the warm water created by The Bob, from ocean conditions to marine species, Weitkamp said. In 2015, fish normally found in the tropics were being caught off the Northwest coast; young Chinook salmon were noticeably skinny and obviously malnourished. In 2016, red pelagic crabs, a warm water species typically only found south of San Diego, were found off Oregon, and changes to the food web, first noticed in 2015, continued. In 2017, crab and clam fishery closures that began in 2015 continued, there was an explosion of warm-water pyrosomes, also known as sea pickles, from California to Alaska, and the cod abundance in Alaska crashed. More California sea lions than usual migrated to the Columbia River estuary from southern California, where their pups were starving. From about 1,500 counted in 2014 in the Astoria area, the 2016/2017 count was nearly 4,000.

In 2017, the annual survey of waters off the coast found extremely low numbers of juvenile Chinook and coho salmon. Researchers have no idea what happened, as the number of juvenile fish in the Columbia River estuary was within the normal range. There were other anomalies in 2017 – the second-lowest sockeye and pink salmon returns ever to the Fraser River, the lowest steelhead returns to the Oregon coast ever, the closure of fisheries for Chinook from Washington, Oregon and British Columbia in Alaskan waters, but the highest chum salmon harvest ever in Alaska, and strong returns of pick and sockeye salmon to Alaskan waters.

What’s next?

Weitkamp said she expects the biological effects of warm ocean conditions to continue for several years, at all levels of the marine ecosystem. The low counts of juvenile coho and Chinook in 2017 do not bode well for adult returns in 2018 and 2019, but the prediction for cooler coastal waters this spring should be good for juvenile salmon entering the ocean, she said.

(see full story)

What's the Least-cost Way to Lower Northwest Carbon Emissions From the Power System?

posted Jan 17, 2018

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At the Council's December meeting, Therese Hampton of the Public Generating Pool and Arne Olsen of E3 presented an analysis on policies to decarbonize the Northwest power system. According to the study, the most cost-effective way to reduce carbon emissions is to replace coal generation with a combination of energy efficiency, renewable resources, and natural gas projects. 

And although renewable resources are an important part of a low-carbon future, the study found that renewable portfolio standards result in higher costs and emissions compared to a policy that focuses directly on reducing carbon through incentives. 

Renewable portfolio standard policies have spurred investment in wind and solar resources here in the Northwest and nationally, but it's also had some unintended consequences as well. Problems such as oversupply and negative wholesale electricity prices have been challenging for utilities, hampering their ability to reinvest in existing zero-carbon resources. And meeting decarbonization goals becomes much more difficult and costly should existing zero-carbon resources retire. Replacing 3,400 average megawatts of existing hydropower or nuclear generation would require nearly 5,500 megawatts of new wind and solar generation as well as 2,000 megawatts of natural gas peaking at an annual cost of $1.6 billion by 2050. Carbon-pricing programs have the advantage of returning revenues to the electricity sector to help pay for the cost of lowering carbon emissions.

The study also found that prohibiting the construction of new natural gas generation adds considerable cost while doing little to reduce emissions. Building new gas resources for capacity is part of a least-cost portfolio even while trying to lower emissions. The study recommends research to find the next generation of energy efficiency and noted that electric vehicles would reduce carbon emissions, but might increase costs in the power sector. 

(see full story)

Tough Task

posted Jan 16, 2018

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Henry Lorenzen

On his last day as Chair of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, Henry Lorenzen, a Pendleton rancher and attorney with a long history in regional energy and environmental issues, warned that decisions about future regional energy supplies are being made with more attention to meeting goals or targets than whether the energy actually is needed.

“We, the Council, exist because the region committed a major error with regard to resources to be acquired, WPPSS 1 through 5, and it had a dramatic impact and it continues to have a dramatic impact upon ratepayers and the Bonneville Power Administration’s competitiveness,” Lorenzen said, referring to the 1970s decision to build five nuclear power plants, only one of which was completed. The debt for three of those plants continues as a Bonneville obligation, amounting to nearly $300 million in 2017. Lorenzen's verbatim remarks follow this post.

In response, Lorenzen said, the Council developed “a more rigorous methodology with regard to planning resources.” With this methodology, the Council “determines the least-cost, least-financial-risk resources in order to meet needs based on probabilistic modeling, taking into account a wide range of variables.”

The Council’s Seventh Northwest Power Plan, completed in 2015, included a careful analysis of the best mix of future power supplies that would meet anticipated demand and keep electricity affordable and the supply reliable far into the future. Resources in the plan were, in priority order, energy efficiency, demand response, and a limited number of new natural gas fired plants. The plan called for developing renewable resources to the extent required by state standards. The power plan is implemented by Bonneville and is used by electric utilities as a guide in their own least-cost planning.

Lorenzen said this careful approach to minimize risk, including the financial risk of paying for power plants that are not needed, is not being used in political decisions to set renewable energy goals.

“Very shortly after the release of our Power Plan, decisions were made to substantially increase our renewable energy resources within the Northwest, and that was done by the legislature and other political activities,” he said. “And as a result I’m not certain whether our methodologies we’ve developed are in fact being taken into account to the extent they should be when resource decisions are being made.”

Lorenzen said the challenge for the future is “to make certain to the best we can that the methodologies that we have developed also are taken into consideration by those entities, those persons who are making those decisions, whether it be the traditional utility managers or the legislators.”

He said it will be “a tough task” because the issues are complicated. He predicted it will be necessary to bring the same rigor to decisions about environmental protection, including carbon reduction.

“By doing so we marshal our resources and we achieve a greater good, I believe, ultimately with regard to these matters that are so critically important,” Lorenzen said.

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January 10, 2018 

Remarks of Chair Henry Lorenzen

Northwest Power and Conservation Council Meeting

January 10, 2018 – Portland, Oregon

Now I’m going to have the opportunity to talk before we go. I still control the gavel and I control it for however long I’m willing to talk and people are willing to listen.

I want to mention just a couple of things I perceive as trends that I think have a significant impact upon what the Council does and its work in the future.  Going back to 1980, we are here and we exist as a Council and the Act was passed because the region had made a major error, committed a major error in decisions with regard to resources to be acquired.  WPPSS Plants 1 through 5.  It had a dramatic impact and it continues to have a dramatic impact upon ratepayers and the Bonneville Power Administration’s competitiveness.  The Act anticipated that we would exist and we would have a staff and a mission to develop a more rigorous methodology with regard to planning resources for the area. Over the last many years our staff, an incredibly capable staff, has developed a state-of-the-art methodology by which to anticipate and determine the least-cost, least financial risk resources in order to meet needs based upon probabilistic modeling, taking into account a wide variety and wide range of variables.

My concern is that as we’ve moved forward and we have developed these very rigorous models that have been recognized as state of the art, the traditional people and entities making decisions with regard to acquisition of resources are no longer doing so.  As a result, I’m not certain whether the methodologies we’ve developed are in fact being taken into account to the extent they should be when resource decisions are being made.  If you look back at our Power Plan, the 7th Power Plan, the conclusion was very stark with regard to additional renewable resources necessary in order to meet the Obama Clean Power Plan regionally.  But very shortly after the release of our Power Plan, decisions were made to substantially increase renewables that were to be developed within the Northwest. That was done by the legislature and through other political activities. 

Our challenge, I believe, is to make certain in the future, to the best we can, that the methodologies that we have developed also are taken into consideration by those entities, those persons who are making those decisions, whether it be the traditional utility managers or the legislators. 

That’s a tough task because this is a complicated area. These are complicated matters. On the surface it sounds as if many of us are not concerned about carbon. I am one who is very concerned about environmental issues, very concerned about carbon. But we have to bring the same methodology that we used in planning for generating resources into the area of environmental protection, including carbon reduction.  By doing so we marshal our resources and we achieve a greater good, I believe, ultimately with regard to these matters that are so critically important. 

Another thing, just a tangential matter, has to do with carbon reduction.  I was very struck by Steve Wright’s presentation to us when he complimented us, which is always nice to have a compliment from somebody like Steve Wright, on the methodology used for developing the resource acquisition analysis in the 7th Power Plan. But he then lamented the fact that we were not using the same rigor in looking at how to go about reducing carbon. Our Council staff has methodologies, used in the 7th Power Plan, available to assist those who are making resource and carbon-related decisions.  The question is how do we go about making the inter-connect with those people that are doing the decision making? 

That’s my caution, my look forward.  I hope that the Council can determine how to be successful in promoting and also making our tools available and used by the whole range of people who make those decisions with regard to power planning as well as carbon reduction.

So, with that, my parting shot, I will now soon give up the gavel.

(see full story)

Ocean Predators

posted Jan 16, 2018

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A killer whale with a salmon. Photo: Center for Whale Research

As the population of marine mammals along the West Coast from Central California to Alaska increased, their take of Chinook salmon also increased – by more than 150 percent between 1975 and 2015, according a new paper in the journal Nature, and now surpasses commercial and recreational harvest as a source of adult Chinook salmon mortality in the ocean.

“One thing that has become apparent,” Oregon State University and NOAA Fisheries researcher Brandon Chasco told the Council in a presentation at a recent meeting, “is that the Columbia River does a pretty good job of feeding predators.” Chasco is the primary author of the paper, which has 13 co-authors.

In fact, Chasco said, during the same period that consumption of Chinook by federally protected marine mammals like seals, sea lions, and northern killer whales increased, harvest seasons in the ocean declined by 41 percent.

Columbia River Spring Chinook salmon appear to be a particular target. Southern resident killer whales, which spend most of the year in the Salish Sea, the area that includes the Strait of Georgia, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Puget Sound, will linger off the mouth of the Columbia River in the spring, waiting for Chinook. Adult Columbia River salmon are in the ocean from near the mouth of the river all the way to Alaska, where they are an important component of commercial and recreational fisheries.

“Because Columbia River fish have long migrations up to the Gulf of Alaska and Western Alaska, they are likely susceptible to a long list of marine mammal populations,” Chasco said.

The Columbia produces a lot more Chinook salmon than other rivers, and therefore contribute more fish to the predators than other rivers. Even so, Chasco said it’s possible salmon recovery efforts in the Columbia River Basin have been more successful than the annual adult returns would indicate because so many are killed in the ocean.

The researchers used a bioenergetics model of the Northeast Pacific Ocean to quantify how predation by harbor seals, Steller sea lions, California sea lions, and killer whales on Chinook salmon has changed since the 1970s along the west coast of North America, and compared these estimates to salmon fisheries. According to the paper, from 1975 to 2015 the biomass of Chinook salmon consumed by sea lions, harbor seals, and killer whales increased from 6,100 to 15,200 metric tons (from 5 million to 31.5 million individual salmon – including jueveniles), with the largest biomass being consumed by killer whales. The concurrent harvest reduction in Chinook salmon was from 16,400 to 9,600 metric tons.

Other recent work by NOAA researchers has shown that the reproductive success of Southern Resident killer whales is highly correlated with Chinook salmon abundance, and that localized salmon predation by rebounding populations of seals and sea lions could be limiting the recovery of not only the salmon but of Southern Resident killer whales as well.

(see full story)

Mapping the Northwest’s Power Supply

posted Jan 11, 2018

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Columbia Gorge wind farm

At the Council's January meeting Gillian Charles presented an update on the region's generating resource development and demonstrated, with Eric Schrepel, an enhanced online mapping tool to learn about resources and trends.

The hydropower system continues to be the foundation of the Northwest's power supply, supplying roughly 50 percent of the region's generation. Energy efficiency supplies 20 percent and is the region's second largest resource. Because of this, the region's annual carbon emissions from the power system is lower compared to the country. As lower-cost natural gas has edged out coal as the preferred fuel, emissions have trended down in recent years.

Renewable resource development (renewables are now 10 percent of the region's power supply) has slowed since utilities have met their near-term renewable standard obligations and developers were uncertain if Congress would extend the federal tax incentives for renewables. The final tax bill largely preserves incentives for wind and solar power.

Still, interest in solar PV development is strong for utilities wanting to diversify their resource mix. Costs for solar PV have dropped, making it competitive with wind and other resources, and areas in southern Idaho and eastern Oregon are favorable locations for solar.

Charles also noted that battery energy storage pilot projects are also on the horizon, which will help to address the intermittency problems with renewables.

The mapping tool gives users access to the latest information about existing and planned resources and the ability to filter projects by resource, size, and operating year. It can also show how the power supply has changed over time; what resources have been developed and where. The Council maintains a robust project database used by regional and national stakeholders, and the enhanced online map will help make the data even more useful to more people.

(see full story)

Studying Sturgeon

posted Dec 21, 2017

Economic Recovery Continues

posted Dec 18, 2017

What's Old May Be New Again

posted Dec 13, 2017

Pike Threat

posted Dec 13, 2017

Sea Lions and Salmon

posted Dec 11, 2017

Cost Savings

posted Nov 9, 2017

Scarce Sockeye

posted Nov 9, 2017

Estuary Restoration

posted Oct 31, 2017

Vanished Salmon

posted Oct 31, 2017

Restoring Native Fish

posted Oct 11, 2017

Filet of Predator

posted Oct 10, 2017

Battery Power

posted Sep 29, 2017

Threat to Steelhead

posted Sep 19, 2017

Water Storage, Water Power

posted Sep 19, 2017

Help for Upper Columbia Sturgeon

posted Sep 14, 2017

From Ranch to Fish

posted Sep 14, 2017

Budget Uncertainty

posted Aug 18, 2017

Toxic Habitat

posted Aug 18, 2017

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