As the Northwest's power system transitions from fossil fuel-based generation to more renewable resources like wind and solar, a critical concern is how to ensure that the region will have the power it needs when it needs it.
The Council adopted a resource adequacy standard in 2011 to assess the Northwest power supply and alert the region if resource development fails to keep pace with demand growth. The standard grew out of concerns about the power supply in the late 1990s, which were confirmed when the West Coast experienced an energy crisis in 2000-01.
The standard deems the power supply to be adequate when the likelihood of a shortfall is no more than 5 percent. Every year, the Council assesses the adequacy of the power supply five years into the future to give utilities time to acquire new resources, if needed.
Coal generation has been part of the region's power supply since the 1950s, but economic and environmental pressures have precipitated a sea change in resource development and "...generating electricity from coal, at least in the West, may become a thing of the past...utilities' plans indicate the decline of coal generation in the West will be rapid over the next decade." The latest resource adequacy assessment reflects this reality and its impact on the power supply: As coal plants retire, without the region taking mitigation actions, the chance of a shortfall increases.
The latest assessment finds that the power supply is likely to become inadequate by 2021 due to the planned retirement of 1,619 megawatts of coal-fired generating capacity. The assessment includes existing resources, planned resources that are sited and licensed, and targeted future energy efficiency savings. However, the assessment doesn't include utilities' replacement plans; individual utilities will have different needs for new resources and are planning for any projected shortfalls in their individual integrated resource plans. Without including utilities' replacement plans, the supply shortfall is estimated to be about 7.5 percent.
By 2024, with the planned retirement of an additional 127 megawatts of coal plant capacity, the shortfall potential grows to 8.2 percent; by 2026, with another 804 megawatts of coal plant capacity retiring, it grows to 17 percent; and with the retirement of an additional 1,060 megawatts by 2032, the region would be facing a very large resource gap.
The Council's next power plan, scheduled to be completed by 2021, will explore solutions to this problem to help the region develop a strategy to secure an adequate and affordable power supply. Follow the development of the power plan and participate in our decisionmaking process at www.nwcouncil.org.