Analysis confirms nuclear’s value

Facts still matter. And the fact of the matter is residential utility rates in Washington state are the lowest in the nation. But some people want to change that and force Washington residents to pay more for their power.

“…the widely-publicized decline in solar and wind prices now makes it probable that (Columbia Generating Station) could be replaced entirely with renewable resources and still deliver a cost reduction to Pacific Northwest customers. Once thought to be too expensive, renewables are becoming a viable option for utilities…”

Portland economist Robert McCullough wrote those words as part of a February report pushed by Physicians for Social Responsibility, an anti-nuclear energy group dedicated to closing Columbia Generating Station nuclear energy facility and eliminating nuclear energy entirely from the U.S. electricity mix.

McCullough based his conclusions mostly on levelized cost of electricity reports by Lazard, a financial advisory and asset management firm. However, in doing so he misrepresents the Lazard LCOE 10.0 report, which clearly states that renewables alone can’t replace baseload generation. By ignoring the cost of firm capacity resources needed to back up intermittent generation from renewables, McCullough significantly under-represents the costs that would be incurred if Columbia were retired prematurely (it’s currently licensed through 2043).

McCullough’s conclusion: replacing Columbia with renewables yields a net present value savings of $261.2 million to $530.7 million through June 2026.

A recently released analysis (PPC Analysis – McCullough CGS Report) by the Public Power Council, an entity that has represented the Pacific Northwest’s consumer-owned utilities for 50 years, uses actual data for the Northwest to show McCullough is simply wrong in his conclusions.

The PPC report concludes McCullough’s recommendation would cost Pacific Northwest power customers $271 million a year, as well as impact the region’s power supply resource adequacy.

Playing with numbers

As the PPC report explains, McCullough uses the “median” Lazard LCOE to make his cost comparison, which gets him a cost per megawatt-hour for solar of $42.50 and $31 for wind. The PPC writes, “(a)lthough these values might be realistic in some circumstances, they are wildly inconsistent with the values produced specifically for this region by the [Northwest Power and Conservation Council].”

But the numbers in the Pacific Northwest aren’t as friendly to McCullough and PSR, so they avoid them altogether. The PPC looked at the NWPCC’s Seventh Northwest Power Plan to find levelized costs more in tune with the region where necessary replacement power for Columbia would be generated. “The least expensive new renewable resources in terms of levelized cost in the 7th Power Plan is $61.43 per MWh for utility scale solar and $102.45 per MWh for wind. Many options are significantly higher,” the PPC writes.

They go on to offer a slight rebuke of McCullough’s research tactics.

“Although the (McCullough) report cites the NWPCC and the 7th Power Plan in other instances, the choice to rely on a minimally documented, national level report for levelized resource costs rather than the extensively vetted regional analysis used by the NWPCC is not explained.”

Perhaps we can help. Anti-nuclear energy ideology drives many folks to discount scientific facts about nuclear (such as calling carbon-free nuclear “dirty”) and economic facts that don’t serve their point of view (such as existing resources being cheaper than new resources, even renewables). A lot of people across the country just participated in the March for Science which was, in part, a protest against this type of tactic. In fact, PSR members just marched against this type of tactic.

Doing the math

The PPC takes the NWPCC solar cost of $61.43/MWh and adds Bonneville Power Administration’s Resource Support Services number, basically capturing the cost of an intermittent resource versus a baseload, or full-time, resource. The PPC report uses BPA’s 2018 rate case number of $16.30/MWh for solar.

“Using regionally vetted analysis from the NWPCC and BPA’s latest proposed rates, the least expensive replacement for the power of (Columbia) with intermittent renewables would be utility scale solar facilities in Idaho at a total cost of $78.84 per MWh,” according to the PPC report.

The average cost of power for Columbia Generating Station is $48.50/MWh through 2026 (including transmission), according to the PPC.

McCullough Chart new

Given the difference between the two costs, based on Columbia’s 1,019 aMW annual output (1,019 MW of generation an hour multiplied by 365 days), the McCullough/PSR recommendation would cost power customers $271 million a year over what they currently pay.

“This result is consistent with a scenario analysis conducted in the 7th Power Plan that examined the change in regional portfolio cost for the planned retirement of a 1,000 MW carbon free resource. That analysis found an increase in regional power costs of
$3 to $6 billion on a net present value basis over 20 years,” the PPC concludes.

Other report issues

Cost is certainly an important factor when considering electricity resources. But so is capacity and reliability, or what McCullough strangely sees as “inflexibility.”

In his report, McCullough writes, “Indeed, as renewable energy standards in the Pacific Northwest, California, and other Western states require additional variable resources, inflexible baseload plants, including nuclear and coal plants, will become increasingly problematic.” This ignores two key points: that intermittent generation from renewables is not a reliable replacement for baseload generation; and, existing Northwest coal plants are and will be retiring, reducing the available amount of baseload generation in the region. By arguing that Columbia should be retired, McCullough is doubling down on these challenges.

The Public Power Council report catches this mistake.

“The NWPCC conducts a rigorous, annual Pacific Northwest Power Supply Adequacy Assessment which looks forward five years. The most recent assessment conducted in 2016 for adequacy in 2021 already shows significant potential for resource deficiencies based on the planned retirements of the Boardman, Centralia and Colstrip Units 1 & 2 coal facilities. Retirement of (Columbia) would significantly exacerbate these issues,” the PPC writes.

A final point from PPC: BPA uses the hydro system to help balance the wind generation in the region. The baseload electricity from Columbia Generating Station provides significant additional margin to accomplish that while still maintaining an environmentally-friendly carbon-free mix. Following the McCullough/PSR formula would put added pressure on BPA and the hydro system.

Here’s why:

“(T)he 7th Power Plan specifically does not rely on the large scale development of intermittent resources to meet capacity needs, instead calling for demand response measures as available or natural gas generation,” according to the PPC analysis.

Reports, reports

So to summarize, McCullough took 48 pages to reach a result that was off by literally more than half a billion dollars at best ($750 million at worst) versus a three-page analysis that provided facts relevant to the Northwest and its power customers, and showed the true value of Columbia Generating Station to the region.

As another regional energy expert said about this McCullough report:

Overall, it looks like Robert McCullough hasn’t changed his basic approach. Instead, he’s just adding more superstructure on top of a weak foundation. For example, he willfully continues to ignore and misrepresent the fact that the Mid-Columbia spot market only reflects the variable operating costs of resources, and at best only allows a small portion of the fixed costs of owning resources to be recovered.

As headline grabbers, McCullough’s reports do the job admirably (see here and here, for example), but as the basis for serious energy policy discussions, they seem to miss the mark, and in this case, wildly.

(Posted by John Dobken)

 

Resolute about Nuclear Energy

Four Energy Northwest member utilities issued resolutions during the past two months calling for the continued operation of Columbia Generating Station during its lifecycle. Columbia received a license extension from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2012 to operate through 2043.

Pacific County Public Utility District 2 commissioners were first to place their signatures behind the economic and environmental value of Columbia, followed
March 28 by Benton and Franklin PUDs and Grant County PUD 2.

Resolutions adopted by Benton PUD and Franklin PUD also took to task a recent report commissioned by the anti-nuclear energy group Physicians for Social Responsibility. In the report, researcher Robert McCullough claims Columbia’s output can be replaced by renewable resources. (See our blog post for more on the report).

“We felt pretty strongly about this,” said Franklin PUD general manager Tim Nies during the utility’s public meeting March 28, referencing “a lot of flaws” in the PSR report. “CGS is baseload…and the cost of generation from CGS is still a really good deal.”

Resolutions

Such statements of confidence join state bi-partisan political support for nuclear energy generation that, according to Gov. Inslee last year, is “a vital part” of the state’s diverse mix of environmentally responsible generating resources.

Last summer Washington State Democrats passed a resolution titled, “Retain the Columbia Generating Station”. In early March the Benton County Republican Party passed a similar resolution which, like its democratic companion, is expected to advance this year to full state party support.

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EN Vice President for Corporate Services/CFO Brent Ridge

“This all started with the state democratic party, which focused on the environmental benefits of nuclear power generation,” Brent Ridge, vice president for Corporate Services and chief financial officer, told Franklin PUD commissioners. “Now we have a resolution from Benton County republicans that’s similar, but leans toward the specific economic benefits of Columbia.”

Directly responsible for more than 1,000 high-paying jobs, Columbia is the third largest electricity generator in the state, behind Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams. Plant operations prevent an atmospheric carbon impact equivalent of keeping 600,000 cars off the road, or equal to eliminating every passenger vehicle in Oregon’s Multnomah County.

Last month Pacific PUD leaders also pushed back on a local activist’s call to close Columbia because of “risks to the Columbia River.” In a letter published in the Chinook Observer, Commissioners Diana Thompson, Michael Swanson and Dick Anderson spoke to Columbia Generating Station’s safe and efficient operation, declining costs, recent generation records and environmental benefit.

“PUD commissioners and employees have gained insights and knowledge about nuclear energy and nuclear energy operations; about their systems and back-up systems; the regulatory framework these plants operate in; and the professionals who keep the plant running safely and efficiently,” the commissioners wrote.

(Posted by Mike Paoli)

 

EVs – What’s not to like?

Carbon emissions from the transportation sector eclipsed emissions from the utility sector last February – the first time that’s happened since 1979. In Washington state, our electric utilities derive most of their power from low carbon sources, including hydro, nuclear and wind. Electrifying cars, trucks and buses will have a major impact on the state’s overall carbon footprint.

Imagine never filling up at a gas station again. Instead, simply pull into the garage and plug the car into a charging outlet. Adding to the convenience, electric car drivers dramatically reduce petroleum dependence, improve transportation sustainability, improve environmental stewardship, create jobs and help the economy.

What’s not to like about driving electric?

Are electric vehicles expensive?
The purchase price keeps going down and combined with an additional $7,500 tax incentive, you can buy a new EV for well under $8,000. And there is a growing “gently used” inventory as owners upgrade to newer models. Lease rates are also competitive – as low as $199 a month. (Find out more about incentives here.)

Are EVs expensive to operate?
After an average day of driving, electric cars fully charge for less than $1. The cars can be plugged into standard home electrical outlets, and electric cars typically charge at night when electricity demand is lowest. On a cost per mile basis, the operation of an EV is approximately one-third to one-quarter the cost of a gasoline-powered vehicle.

Since electric cars don’t have exhaust systems and don’t need oil changes, maintenance costs are relatively minimal. Brake wear is reduced thanks to regenerative braking, which sends the energy back to the battery. To maintain an electric car, just rotate the tires and keep them properly inflated.

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Robin Rego, generation project development manager, and Garrett Brown, Mid-Columbia Electric Vehicle Association president, discuss the benefits of driving an electric car during Energy Northwest’s Public Power Forum. (Mitch Lewis photo)

How efficient are electric cars?
Only 13 percent of the energy stored in a gallon of gasoline makes it to the wheels in a typical gasoline car. The rest of the energy is lost due to other factors like heat and friction. In a typical electric car, more than 52 percent of the energy used in charging the car goes to the wheels.

How safe are electric cars?
EVs have the standard safety features expected in conventional vehicles, such as anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, pre-tensioning seatbelts and airbags. Another common feature is a noise generator, which, in the absence of a conventionally fueled engine, creates noise to warn pedestrians when an EV is approaching.

Manufacturers have compensated for battery overheating by equipping electric cars with preventative technology, such as fuses and circuit breakers that can disconnect the battery when sensors detect an oncoming collision. Other measures include coolant systems, which keep the temperature low while the vehicle is running. The battery pack is located in the center of the car, on the bottom of the chassis and away from front and rear crumple zones.

Will electric utilities start to raise rates as more EVs start to use charging stations?
Utilities report negligible load growth due to the 2008 recession, conservation, energy efficiency and distributed generation (residential and community solar). EVs contribute to load growth and increasing sales will reduce the need for rate increases. Electric vehicles also enable utilities to increase load without adding new generation facilities.

How do charging stations help the local economy?
Hotels, shopping malls, wineries and other businesses that have installed charging stations have experienced an increase in business from customers waiting for their EVs to charge.

Energy Northwest is the facilitator for the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Transportation Alliance, which promotes public and private partnerships in developing charging stations throughout the service areas of local utilities in Benton and Franklin counties and along the major highways leading into the Tri-Cities area. EVITA comprises Benton and Franklin PUD, Benton Rural Electric Association and the City of Richland. Other cities, ports and chambers of commerce have signed letters of support for this venture. (See our blog post on EVITA here.)

Along with being convenient, good for the environment and the economy, safe and cost-effective; electric vehicles are sleek, quiet, clean and fast.

What’s not to like?

(Post by Robin Rego, EN generation project development manager, proud owner of an EV.)

Sharing, learning and acting for continuous improvement

Columbia Generating Station recently hosted a Japanese delegation from the Hokuriku Electric Power Company, including the chief nuclear officer and the engineering manager for Shika Nuclear Power Station in Shika, Ishikawa.

The visit is part of a partnership between U.S. and Japan CNOs to exchange information and operating experience. During this meeting, hosts and visitors discussed probabilistic risk analysis (a method to determine station risk), risk management and risk communication.

japan-visit-1

Corey Olivier, Operations Support manager (center) shows FLEX equipment to visitors from the Hokuriku Electric Power Company in Shika, Ishikawa, Japan. The six-member delegation spent two days at Columbia as part of a partnership between U.S. and Japan nuclear plants. (Kevin Shaub photo)

“This was tremendously valuable,” said Brad Sawatzke, Energy Northwest chief nuclear officer. “We all understand that nuclear power is a global industry, and that our performance is linked. A challenge to any plant in the world is a challenge to our entire industry.”

“We appreciate your team coming here and spending time with us,” Sawatzke told the six-member delegation at the conclusion of the visit. “We are very impressed with the actions you have taken to improve the protection of your safety equipment.”

During the two-day visit the delegation toured Columbia and EN’s new FLEX facilities. flexFLEX is a nuclear industry response to the events at Fukushima Daiichi that adds to the industry’s defense-in-depth safety at nuclear plants across the U.S. (See more about EN’s response here.)

Akizumi Nishino, chief nuclear officer for Shika Power Station, noted the additional seismic support on plant equipment, calling it “impressive.” Toshihiro Aida, manager of engineering at Shika, said he was struck by the cleanliness of the plant. If you’ve been to Japan, you know that’s saying something.

The delegation also saw preliminary work for the hardened containment vent system that will be installed during Refueling and Maintenance Outage 23, which begins in May. The system is part of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s post-Fukushima actions, and will include a 164-foot vent pipe running up the south side of the reactor building. The system will provide a direct means of venting an area of the primary containment, known as the wetwell, to outside the secondary containment structure during beyond-design-basis accident conditions.

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Diagram showing where Columbia Generating Station’s hardened containment vent will be located.

The tsunami at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant eliminated any onsite power at the plant after an earthquake removed all offsite power. Subsequent fuel melting led to hydrogen explosions that destroyed the reactor buildings (secondary containment) at three of the Fukushima Daiichi units. The loss of the various fission product barriers led to the release of radioactive materials, which further hampered operator efforts to mitigate the accident. The disaster claimed no lives, nor is it expected to, but today more than 80,000 people are still displaced from their homes.

One of the lessons directly taken from that series of events is the need for licensees with Mark I and Mark II containments to either upgrade or install a hardened containment venting system that will remain functional during beyond-design-basis severe accident conditions. Mark II containment systems were not designed with a “hardened” containment venting system, though the current design can employ other methods for reducing containment pressure. Columbia has a Mark II containment and, therefore, must design and install such a venting system to build-in additional protections in the event of a beyond-design-basis severe accident.

What is a “hardened” vent? From the Nuclear Regulatory Commission:

“Hardened” means these vents must withstand the pressure and temperature of the steam generated early in an accident. The vents must also withstand possible fires and small explosions if they are used to release hydrogen later in an accident.

The vent will provide a reliable method to ensure continued operation of reactor core isolation pump cooling operation and removal of decay heat during a beyond-design-basis event where all onsite and offsite power is lost. Along with our added FLEX safety equipment stored on site, it will further enhance Columbia’s safety margins.

As a continuous learning industry, the U.S. nuclear reactor fleet has put a lot of effort into reviewing what happened at Fukushima to make U.S. plants even safer. For Columbia, the NRC declared the plant “safe” regarding seismic hazards. New evaluations are taking place and will be completed soon. The Army Corps of Engineers recently completed its flood hazard evaluation and found that Columbia remains a “dry site,” in other words, the facility will not experience flooding to a level that would impact its safe operation should one or more Columbia River dams fail upstream of the station.

This continuous learning is making the industry safer – and more efficient. Nuclear energy is a full-time, or baseload resource. Capacity factors for the industry as a whole are rising; Columbia has operated at a more than 92 percent capacity factor over the past four years. As the threat of climate change becomes more real, carbon-free nuclear energy will become more relied upon to provide the clean-air energy that benefits the global environment while powering our homes and businesses, and sustaining our national standard of living.

(Posted by Kevin Shaub/John Dobken)

Innovative Solar Project Awarded State Grant

Energy Northwest will receive state funding for a first-of-its-kind solar power generating and battery storage system that will also include a technician training center in north Richland. The specific amount of funding granted each utility has not been announced. Energy Northwest requested up to $4 million.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced last week $12.6 million in Clean Energy Fund grants to five utilities in Washington. The governor made the announcement in Seattle at the Northwest Regional Clean Energy Innovation Partnership Workshop hosted by the University of Washington and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. At the event, the governor joined U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell to discuss the Pacific Northwest’s role as an international leader in developing the technologies to power a growing 21st century clean energy economy.

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Gov. Jay Inslee speaking at UW’s Clean Energy Institute. (Photo courtesy: UW)

Besides EN, the grants will fund projects proposed by Seattle City Light, Snohomish County Public Utility District, Orcas Power and Light and Avista. The utilities and their partners will match the state funding at a minimum ratio of 1 to 1.

“With these awards, our leading utilities will demonstrate how to integrate battery storage with solar energy and stand-alone energy systems, train the workforce to build and maintain these systems, and lead the industry into the clean energy future,” Inslee said.

The Horn Rapids Solar Storage and Training Center would be located at the regional educational training center owned by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The project would comprise a four-megawatt direct-current solar generating array across 20 acres, a one-MW battery storage system and an IBEW technician training center. What makes the project unique in Washington state is the integration of the 1-MW vanadium flow battery, making it the first utility scale solar and battery storage project. The project will be developed and operated by the Energy Services and Development division of EN.

Sawatzke, Brad Lo-Res

Brad Sawatzke, EN COO

“Energy Northwest is committed to developing smart energy solutions for our customers and the region,” said Brad Sawatzke, EN chief operating officer. “This one project will deliver clean energy, provide valuable research, and offer training for IBEW members. It’s a win-win-win.”

First Solar, a Tempe, Ariz., manufacturer of photovoltaic modules designed for large scale, grid connected and off grid solar power plants has offered to donate half the panels needed, significantly reducing costs for the project. The City of Richland has expressed interest in receiving the power, and the local economy would benefit with hundreds of IBEW workers each year receiving training at the center. “Currently 1,200 hotels rooms in Richland are used by students visiting the center,” Robin Rego, EN Project Development Manager said. “The training center expects the number will triple with this project.”

Both PNNL in Richland, and the University of Washington’s Clean Energy Institute, will utilize the project for clean energy-related research. Utility construction company Quanta Services/Potelco of Washington also has played a major role in developing the project.

Commercial operation of the facility could begin by late 2017.

According to a news release from the office of Gov. Inslee, the Clean Energy Fund strengthens Washington’s position at the forefront of a clean, low-carbon energy future. Through the fund, the state invests in technologies that save energy, cut costs, reduce emissions and create good-paying jobs.

“Gov. Inslee and the state of Washington continue to champion clean energy innovation. Driving innovation is at the core of how our country maintains its leadership in developing clean, low-carbon energy technologies,” said Moniz. “I was pleased to join the governor to highlight innovation, as the Department of Energy is an active partner with Washington and many other states to enhance the U.S. energy security, climate resilience and economic leadership.”

(Posted by John Dobken)

EVITA could be a game changer

“We have to crawl before we can walk before we can run. But we have to start somewhere and we believe these fast charging stations are a good place to start.” – Robin Rego, Energy Northwest

Call it the “charging gap.” Electric vehicle owners know what it is – the distance between charging stations on the highway. On the West side of Washington state, mainly along the Interstate 5 corridor, the gap is relatively small, with Direct Current fast charging stations located every 40 to 60 miles, according to the West Coast Green Highway website.

Electric vehicle charging station sign isolated with sunset sky.But if travelling eastward, say to the Tri-Cities area, the gap gets wider and wider, limiting routes and, likely, opportunity for Westsiders to make a carbon-free trip to a favorite Mid-Columbia winery.

Enter EVITA, the acronym for a new project involving Energy Northwest, local utilities and the Tri-Cities Development Council. It is sponsored by the Mid-Columbia Energy Initiative, an industry collaboration effort.

EVITA stands for Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Transportation Alliance. The objective is to advocate for sustainable electric transportation infrastructure by promoting public/private partnerships in developing DC fast charging stations throughout the service areas of local utilities in Benton and Franklin counties, as well as along the major highways leading into the Tri-Cities area.

“We are focused on growing the (Energy Northwest) vision to support our member utilities with what their interests are, charging station infrastructure as an example, but also to stay on top of new technologies,” said Robin Rego, Generation Project Development manager. “Electric vehicles are a real part of storage. Storage is becoming much more important as people are focusing on renewables.”

Discussing EVITA

Alaxandria Von Hell (left) and Robin Rego, both of Energy Northwest, discuss an upcoming presentation to stakeholders on EVITA.

Rego says wind and solar, because they are intermittent, require storage to be most effective and it is becoming increasingly expensive and often not possible to use other fast responding resources like hydro and natural gas turbines to firm up renewables. Battery storage is in its infancy with electric vehicles essentially at the forefront of battery development. Energy Northwest brings its knowledge of battery storage technologies to the table, according to Rego.

Transportation versus utilities

As reported by Brad Plumer in Vox, the transportation sector in the U.S. recently passed the utility sector in carbon emissions. Plumer notes:

Over the long term, the real hope is that electric cars will catch on and help drive down overall emissions by relying more heavily on the quickly-greening power sector. Right now, electric vehicles are only 0.7 percent of the US car fleet, and turnover is fairly slow, but many analysts expect that falling battery prices should help speed up the shift by making EVs more cost-competitive with traditional vehicles.

Washington state has an enviable mix of carbon-free electricity generating resources, including all the assets operated by EN. Where the state struggles to reduce its carbon-footprint is the transportation sector, which makes up 50 percent of the state’s emissions.

The Energy Information Administration has figures from 2014 that show Washington state as an electric vehicle leader in the U.S. (see below). But in raw numbers, that’s not saying much. Washington has seven million registered cars and trucks on the road. The state’s goal is to have 50,000 electric vehicles or hybrids on the road by 2020.

EV Nationwide

That’s where EVITA can help.

Benefits and challenges

The program involves deploying DC fast charging stations at participating businesses or organizations throughout the Mid-Columbia region. The stations will re-charge an electric vehicle in about 30 minutes. Compare that to a normal home re-charge which can take 8 to 20 hours to fully re-charge. The speed is a key attribute because EV owners will want to charge up and get back home. But with speed comes cost.

Installation of one station can run between $50,000 and $150,000. On the other side of the ledger is the potential for more customers for businesses, a tourism boost and increased electricity sales for utilities. But there are risks involved.

Fast Charger

A DC fast charging station.

Demand for public charging is relatively low and how quickly that will change is uncertain. Another risk is that little is known about the financial performance of EV charging station infrastructure.

Alaxandria Von Hell, with EN’s Generation Project Development and assisting on the project, believes it is worth finding out if there can be a path to success.

“Support of this project aligns with Energy Northwest’s core values. The expansion of EV charging station access is of valuable interest to EN’s member utilities and participants and is aligned with EN’s vision statement, to be a leader in energy solutions,” Von Hell said.

Ultimately, success rests with collaboration between a wide-ranging group of interested parties, including public and private utilities, charging station owners and operators, EV owners and government agencies. Participating utilities will be identifying potential charging station locations this summer and waiting to hear about any grant money available to offset costs.

If EVITA fulfills its promise, the program will open up a new gateway of carbon-free travel across the state.

Local utilities involved with the project include Benton PUD, Franklin PUD, City of Richland and Benton REA.

View a recent news story on EVITA by KEPR-TV in the Tri-Cities by clicking here.

(Posted by John Dobken)

Shameless in Seattle

If the committee entertains such a resolution, Energy Northwest will be invited to participate in the discussion, (committee staffer Ted) Virdone said. At that point, “it will be essential for both sides to get a fair hearing.”  –Clearing Up, 2014

The Seattle City Council is set to vote today on a resolution that challenges the city’s reputation to be both progressive and environmentally friendly.

The resolution restricts the use of new nuclear energy by the city’s utility, should new nuclear become available (see below for more on that). The city currently receives more than 4 percent of its power (carbon-free) from Columbia Generating Station (which is more than it gets directly from wind power). Two years ago, a version of the resolution that called for shutting down Columbia would not fly so the council’s Energy and Environment Committee encouraged anti-nuclear groups to go back to the drawing board and focus on the future.

What was staged last week was another lesson in a strangely anti-democratic (and anti-science) process that grips this committee every time nuclear energy is the topic. The committee invited representatives from anti-nuclear energy groups to the table – but did not want to hear from any opposing views. Yet, like daisies growing through cracks in a cement sidewalk, several pro-nuclear voices were heard during the legally required public comment period (thank goodness for the law).

What the supporters said was informative and truthful – and the snickering heard in the background during one such statement spoke volumes.

So, sitting around a table with no opposing voices, committee members laughed and joked while discussing the prospect of nearly 1,000 Washington residents losing their jobs (including hundreds of union members and veterans).

Those jobs aren’t in Seattle, after all. Even State Rep. Gerry Pollett joined in, though making clear he was wearing his “other” hat, as head of anti-nuke Heart of America Northwest, and seemed to have no issues participating in such a one-sided hearing.

Where the power comes from

The resolution doesn’t mention Columbia by name, but Columbia was the focus of the entire meeting regardless. No one from Energy Northwest received an invitation to present any facts, unfortunately, because facts were sorely needed especially surrounding the clean air benefits of nuclear power.

Would it have mattered?

One councilwoman summed it up thusly when talking about moving the climate change discussion in a more “progressive” manner:

“…which is a hard thing to do given who we’re dealing with in terms of folks out in Central Washington…”

Well.

Had the Seattle form of “progressive” not been so exclusionary, she might have heard about the growing number of world organizations, governments and environmentalists embracing nuclear energy. Even from some of us here in the hinterlands. Yes, we consider ourselves environmentalists and walk the walk to boot.

All reputable organizations involved in the global climate discussion have come to the same conclusion. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, International Energy Agency and Energy Information Administration, as well as many individual scientists and environmental advocates, have said that the U.S. and world cannot achieve meaningful reduction in carbon emissions without nuclear energy.

In President Barack Obama’s 2011 Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future he writes, “…beyond our efforts to reduce our dependence on oil, we must focus on expanding cleaner sources of electricity, including renewables like wind and solar, as well as clean coal, natural gas and nuclear power – keeping America on the cutting edge of clean energy technology so that we can build a 21st century clean energy economy and win the future.”

Last year, Gov. Jay Inslee issued a proclamation during Nuclear Science Week in Washington. The proclamation reads in part, “…nuclear energy in our state and nation is helping to reduce carbon emissions and plays a vital part in the state’s diverse mix of environmentally responsible energy generating resources…”

Last month Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., weighed in during a Department of Energy summit in Washington, D.C. on the need to keep our existing nuclear fleet going. “Nuclear energy provides critical baseload power [and] more than 60 percent of our nation’s carbon-free electric generation. Most Americans don’t realize that and I was one of them. When it comes to carbon-free, baseload power, nuclear is it,” Booker said.

Our own Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., understands the issue as well. “It is vital that the United States continue to lead the world in clean energy, and nuclear may prove to be a key a component in this effort,” Cantwell said during a hearing of the Senate’s Energy committee on advanced nuclear technology in Washington, D.C.

Eco-warrior Stewart Brand, author of 2009’s Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto and founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, in 2010 said, “I surprised myself. I used to be, you know, pretty much a knee-jerk environmentalist on this particular subject. And then because of climate change I re-investigated the matter and discovered that I’d been misled in many of the details on how nuclear works.”

How about Michael Shellenberger, co-founder of the Breakthrough Institute and Time Magazine’s 2008 “Hero of the Environment.” He is one of the contributors to The Ecomodernist Manifesto, which was written last year in collaboration with Brand and 17 other notable scholars, scientists and environmentalists. (One of those was Robert Stone, the Oscar- and Emmy-nominated director of the “fiercely independent” documentary, Pandora’s Promise, which tells the anti- to pro-nuclear conversion stories of leading environmentalists.) While acknowledging the cultural barriers to nuclear power, the authors assert that nuclear “represents the only present-day zero-carbon technology with the demonstrated ability to meet most, if not all, of the energy demands of a modern economy.”


Think about this. World-renown climate scientist James Hansen would not be able to get a seat at the table of the Seattle City Council Energy and Environment committee because of his pro-nuclear energy position. And he’s not even from Central Washington!


At a time when the world’s leading scientific institutions and many here at home are telling us climate change is a real and immediate threat – and that humans are a significant cause of that threat – Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Sierra Club et al. are asking the Seattle City Council to denounce the technology that currently provides more than 60 percent of our nation’s carbon-free electricity (20 percent of total U.S. generation). Is that the national leadership role Seattle – the city that championed the Kyoto Protocols – is seeking to establish?

Leading from behind?

Seattle wants to dramatically reduce city sources of greenhouse gases to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. The city hired experts from the Stockholm Environmental Institute to see if it could be done. They said it could, so the city is aggressively going after that goal. One of those experts at SEI is Karl Hallding, a co-author of Beyond Paris: Using Climate Change Scenarios to Manage Risk. In 2014 Hallding, an expert on China’s oppressive energy pollution problem, said “an interesting sign in the sky is that … the share of thermal power, most of which comes from coal … that came on line in China in 2013 fell to around half for the first time thanks to the growth in alternative energy sources – hydro, wind, solar and nuclear.” Perhaps an SEI business card is still lying on someone’s desk at Seattle City Hall. Now would be a good time, prior to today’s full council vote, to give SEI a call for a brief education on nuclear energy’s important role in achieving a clean energy future.

It’s always refreshing to see city governments do right by their citizens. In this case, Seattle, make some phone calls to people who have higher-education degrees and have published on this topic – a proper balance of pro and con – and ask them to come speak to you. Include them in the public dialogue. Then decide.

Energy Northwest has a vision for nuclear power in our region, but this vision does not include new nuclear generation in Washington during the foreseeable future. Our state simply doesn’t need the power, let alone the massive amounts of power that would come from a new single nuclear reactor (the Columbia Generating Station reactor is the third largest producer of electricity in Washington, behind Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams).

The Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, however, is looking for clean, baseload (think “always on”) power to replace coal plants in their service territory, and that power may come from a small modular nuclear facility in Idaho. Their only other option for baseload power is natural gas, but “clean” natural gas emits 60 percent as much carbon as coal, so not nearly as attractive as carbon-free nuclear. We’d like to see the manufacturing portion of this project (a first-of-its-kind facility with global orders to follow) – and the thousands of associated jobs – end up here in Washington.

Fairness is fine

We are very happy to be contributing to Seattle’s boast as “The Nation’s Greenest Utility” and truly do not want any special favors from the committee or anyone else. The power from Columbia Generating Station goes to 92 utilities in six states. Seattle is one of them.

We are proud to be part of a Northwest energy mix that is among the cleanest in the world. Nuclear energy, as a safe, reliable and cost-effective generation resource, fits nicely with this mix. But that’s a common sense view, not an ideological one.

(Posted by Mike Paoli and John Dobken)

Curiosity and Carbon – Discussing Nuclear Energy with CASEnergy’s Ron Kirk

Ron Kirk was curious.

As Co-Chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, Kirk had visited a half-dozen states to talk about the benefits of nuclear energy and everywhere he went people enthusiastically asked him about these things called small modular reactors.

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Ambassador Ron Kirk

Which is why when the opportunity to visit Oregon presented itself Kirk was eager to make the trip. “I have been wanting to come out here to learn about SMRs. I had to come see it for myself,” Kirk told me.

Oregon is home to NuScale Power, the leading player in the U.S. small modular reactor arena. NuScale, with offices in Corvallis and Portland, employs about 600 people and anticipates submitting its SMR design certification to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission later this year.

NuScale’s Dr. Jose Reyes and Mike McGough led Kirk on a tour of NuScale research facilities on Oregon State University’s campus, including the Integral System Test facility, a working prototype of the NuScale reactor design.

But with Kirk, President Obama’s former trade ambassador and past mayor of Dallas, the discussion inevitably makes its way from technology to policy, specifically policies that govern how this country will generate low-carbon energy into the future.

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Ron Kirk, left, speaks with NuScale’s Dr. Jose Reyes at the NuScale facilities on the OSU campus.

Kirk was surprised to learn about Oregon’s moratorium (as it were) on new nuclear energy projects. Passed by voters in 1980 (the year after Three Mile Island), Measure 7 basically says there can be no new nuclear energy plants in the state until there is a permanent federal repository for used nuclear fuel storage. Any new nuclear plant proposed would also have to be approved by a majority of Oregon voters.

Kirk says that was then and this is now.

“Literally, you have the world coming here because of this incredible, potentially game-changing technology that came out of Oregon State,” Kirk said. “It’s going to be built elsewhere and deployed elsewhere and I’m just stunned that Oregon provided all the intellectual fuel and capital in what could be a game-changer in the war on carbon emissions and it’s not going to be deployed in the state.

“This is the equivalent of saying we produced the scientists who discovered penicillin and the state saying, ‘sorry, we passed a law that says you can’t use it here.’”

Addressing the mythology

Ambassador Kirk quickly discovered after joining CASEnergy that when it comes to nuclear, one spends a lot of time dispelling the myths and misconceptions before the conversation can progress to the benefits of nuclear as a generation resource.

One of the myths most in need of dispelling, in Kirk’s view, is that nuclear energy can’t help with climate change.

Indeed, a recent poll by the Nuclear Energy Institute found that 70 percent of respondents did not know that nuclear energy is the largest source of clean air energy in the U.S.

“Nuclear energy is the workhorse of clean energy,” Kirk explains. “You just can’t get around the fact that two-thirds of our carbon-free energy in this country comes from nuclear energy. That doesn’t make you anti-wind or anti-solar, we love those. But you simply cannot build enough wind and solar to replace the benefit that nuclear contributes to our carbon reduction strategy, both existing and going forward.”

Which is one reason he questions why a state like Oregon would essentially turn its back on a resource that has so much potential for providing carbon-free, full-time electricity.

“For Oregon to justifiably pride itself on its commitment to the environment, I just find it a little incongruous that they can’t find a way to square with that, the humility to say ‘maybe we had very legitimate reasons for the moratorium that went into place years ago. But today, knowing what we know now, let’s have an intelligent debate about that and revisit that,’” Kirk said.

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Ron Kirk speaks to a student at Portland State University.

As in Oregon and elsewhere, Kirk also tackles head-on the myth that nuclear waste, or used nuclear fuel, is an issue that would prevent more nuclear energy facilities from coming online. Kirk says the real issue with nuclear waste is the poor political discussion about it that has taken place for decades.

“We don’t have a (technical) challenge with nuclear waste because we know how to store nuclear fuel. We could recycle it. But the truth is nuclear fuel can be stored safely on site for 100 years. That’s not a reason to not deploy nuclear going forward,” Kirk said.

“If you had the fullness of the debate, people would see the nuclear waste issue is more of a red herring than it is a reason to not go forward with embracing nuclear energy.

“Our message is our nation is richly blessed to have a diversity of energy resources, and a non-carbon diversity of energy resources. Where we’ve gotten into trouble is when we try to arbitrarily pick winners and losers.”

Looking to the future

As the former U.S. trade representative, Kirk has seen the world. He has seen parts of the world that aren’t so abundantly equipped with rich energy resources. And it’s made an impression on him.

“When you travel around the world and you see what it’s like to grow an economy, operate a medical system, without the benefits of a reliable energy system, you come to realize we’re so blessed in America,” Kirk said. “In Dallas, we had the only person die of Ebola in the U.S. The real tragedy of that story, if you’ve been to the Ivory Coast and Africa, that’s not a story of infectious disease, that’s the story of the tragedy of living in the 21st century in a society that doesn’t have access to clean water and power. If they had those two things you don’t have an Ebola crisis. You can’t run research in hospitals if you don’t have those two elements.”

Kirk mentioned that on his visits to developing countries the Secret Service wouldn’t let him take the elevator for fear the power could go out at any minute, potentially stranding the group.

“When we were in office, India had a brownout that affected a third of the country. I had to remind my daughters that a third of India is almost all of North America. The mayhem and anger across the U.S. if we didn’t have power for 10 days? Our kids think it’s a birthright to wake up and plug in their smart phones and iPads and laptops. Our kids’ rooms suck more energy than our entire homes did growing up!”

It’s for all those reasons that Kirk says choices and decisions about where we get our electricity in the future need to be made now and made rationally.

“The time to start thinking about energy isn’t going to be 10 years from now when Vermont says maybe we shouldn’t have shut that plant down. You can’t call Wal-Mart and say we need a 1,000 megawatt electricity facility. These are decisions that require years of planning and design and billions of dollars in investment. America has been fueled, our growth has been fueled, by decisions that were made about clean water and energy 30, 40, 50 years ago. It’s up to our generation now to make sure we’re going to have the power, the infrastructure, to continue to drive our economy in the future.”

Optimistic about nuclear energy

Kirk sees reason for optimism concerning nuclear energy. The current energy debate is closely linked to reducing carbon-emissions, and that plays right into the need for more nuclear. He also sees younger generations making that linkage. Couple that with an embracing of technology and a growth of employment opportunities in nuclear energy, that bodes well for changing opinions among Millennials.

He also sees a change at the highest levels of government around the world.

“That diversity of hydro, wind, solar and nuclear is what our global leaders embraced in Paris (at the climate talks). They wanted to give nations the flexibility and very much over weighted it to not just renewables, but non-carbon sources. If it makes sense for India and it makes sense for China, which are two of the largest carbon-emitting nations, then it makes sense for the United States.

“Our president and our Energy secretary have embraced nuclear and amended the federal rules to say we are getting our energy from non-carbon emitting sources and I would hope Oregon would see the wisdom of that and soon follow suit.”

(Posted by John Dobken)

Analysis finds EN has lowest nuclear fuel costs

An analysis published this week in Platts’ Nuclear Fuel found Energy Northwest’s Columbia Generating Station had the lowest nuclear fuel cost of 28 plants surveyed across the country. Columbia’s fuel cost for fiscal year 2013 was 5.99 mills per kilowatt-hour of generation. A mill is a 10th of a cent. The average for the 28 plants surveyed is 8.16 mills per kwh, according to Platts.

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New nuclear fuel assemblies are inspected as they arrive at Columbia Generating Station.

“The plants reported their fuel costs either on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Form 1 or to Platts. These costs take into account such fuel-related expenses as the cost of uranium, conversion, enrichment services and the fabricated cost of the fuel, as well as the amortized value of all fuel in the reactor core that year and payments to the Nuclear Waste Fund,” Platts wrote in the article.

Energy Northwest financial data shows even lower nuclear fuel costs for Columbia in fiscal 2014 and fiscal 2015, 5.45 mills and 3.39 mills per kwh, respectively.

Columbia Generating Station, an 1,190-megawatt boiling water reactor, produces enough electricity to power a city the size of Seattle and is the third largest generator of electricity in Washington state. All of Columbia’s electricity is sold at-cost to Bonneville Power Administration. Ninety-two Northwest utilities receive a percentage of its output.

Energy Northwest’s historic low fuel costs can be directly attributed to the management of the nuclear fuels program, which looks for innovative ways to reduce costs.

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Brent Ridge, EN chief financial officer.

“The Platts analysis confirms that the strategic moves we have made as an organization regarding our fuel management program are paying off for Northwest ratepayers,” Energy Northwest chief financial officer Brent Ridge said. “The uranium tails transaction completed in 2012 will only serve to continue this industry-leading trend in low fuel costs for Columbia.”

Energy Northwest began looking at the pursuit of recycling depleted uranium contained in the Department of Energy’s stockpiles in 2003 and the initial efforts led to the Uranium Tails Pilot Program, a demonstration program designed to determine if the DOE stockpiles could be successfully reused. The pilot program ran from May 2005 through December of 2006 and was successful in every aspect. Energy Northwest received 1,940 metric tons of natural uranium from the pilot, which was placed into inventory allowing the agency to avoid purchasing uranium during the historic price run up in that period.

The 2012 tails program was a larger follow-on program that again will help Energy Northwest control costs for the region’s ratepayers. The benefits of that program – less financial risk due to future fuel cost uncertainty, and lower fuel costs on an expected-value basis – are being achieved.The transaction increased rate stability by removing eight years of cost risk from Columbia’s fuel budget, and the transaction continues to have positive value, resulting in lower rates.

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EN uranium tails product when it was stored at Paducah, Ky.

Prior to the recent uranium tails program, Energy Northwest had enough fuel in inventory or under contract to meet its fuel reloading requirements through 2019. With the additional fuel, Columbia’s fuel costs will be reduced and predictable through 2028.

Platts, a division of McGraw Hill Financial, is an independent provider of information and benchmark prices for the commodities and energy markets. More information can be found at their website: http://www.platts.com.

(Posted by John Dobken)

Deep Dive: What is Resource Adequacy?

Electricity is something many take for granted, except in those rare instances when the power goes out. It’s not an overstatement to say that electricity is an invisible, ubiquitous and essential part of modern life; it keeps our homes and businesses well-lit, comfortable and safe, and it powers the various devices we use for work and leisure.

Whenever we flip a switch, adjust the thermostat, go online, recharge our smartphone, or drive through an intersection with a traffic light, we are counting on the power system to always be ready and able to reliably meet our needs.

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Courtesy BPA

Highly dependable utility service is no accident – instead, it is provided by complex and sophisticated power grids that are the largest machines in the world. These electric utility systems consist of multiple parts, including power plants, transmission lines, local distribution facilities, and associated control and communication systems.

As our consumption of electricity fluctuates from moment to moment, hour to hour, day to day, and month to month, an equal amount of power needs to be produced and delivered to match the load. If at any given point in time not enough juice is being produced, the stuff we’re using starts to shut down. Conversely, if there’s too much juice, things start to overheat. So a continuous re-balancing of loads and resources takes place, like an intricately-choreographed, ongoing dance that enables modern life.

What is resource adequacy?

Simply defined, resource adequacy means having sufficient power resources available when needed to reliably serve electricity demands across a range of reasonably foreseeable conditions.

Electricity consumption is measured using two metrics – peak demand and energy load. Peak demand is the maximum amount of power used at a specific point in time, such as in the evening during very cold or very hot weather after people have arrived home and are using multiple power-consuming devices. The second metric, energy load, is the amount of power consumed over a period of time, such as the monthly energy amount shown on your electric bill.

To keep the lights on, the utility system has to do three things. First, it needs to have enough generating capacity available to meet the peak demands when they occur. Second, it needs generating resources that can produce energy to serve loads across time, from day-to-day, month-to-month, and season-to-season. Third, the utility system needs to have enough operating flexibility to follow upward and downward fluctuations in electricity demands. If the system has sufficient resources to do all of these things reliably, then it is deemed to have resource adequacy (including additional resources to protect against sudden unplanned outages).

What types of resources contribute to resource adequacy?

Traditionally, utilities have used three basic types of generating resources to perform the load-resource balancing act described above. The three types of power plants are known as baseload, peaking and midrange generators. All three types are needed to achieve resource adequacy.

Baseload generators can produce power at a constant rate for extended periods of time, and usually have a relatively low variable cost of production. Examples of baseload generation include nuclear power plants, as well as coal-fired plants. Baseload generators are the workhorses that produce large amounts of energy, along with steady, dependable capacity.

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Columbia Generating Station near Richland, Wash.

At the other end of the spectrum are peaking generators, which can quickly provide capacity to help meet peak loads and to follow short-term fluctuations in loads. Peaking generators also tend to have higher variable operating costs. A common type of peaking generation is single-cycle combustion turbines. These are basically large jet engines that can burn either natural gas or liquid fuels. Peaking generators are good sources of capacity and flexibility, but due to their relatively high operating costs, they are not used to produce large amounts of energy.

Midrange generators have more operating flexibility than baseload generators but less than peaking generators. Midrange generators also have variable operating costs that are higher than baseload generators but lower than peaking generators. The most prominent example of midrange generation is combined-cycle combustion turbines, which produce power in two stages. In the first stage, natural gas is burned in a combustion turbine and used to turn a generator. In the second stage, exhaust heat from the combustion turbine is used to make steam and turn a steam turbine-generator. Typically, midrange generators are used to help supply moderate amounts of capacity, energy and flexibility.

Okay, by now you are probably wondering: What about all the hydroelectric power we have in the Northwest? Traditionally, hydro generation has helped meet the region’s needs for all three types of power. It is a particularly effective, low-cost resource for meeting peak demands and following fluctuations in demand. As a result, the Northwest has historically not needed as much fossil-fueled peaking and midrange generation as other regions of the U.S. Our Northwest hydro power also produces significant amounts of annual energy, but not as much as could be produced from an equal amount of baseload generating capacity.

How do utilities decide which resources to use?

When deciding how to operate their resources to meet consumers’ demands for electricity, utilities seek to provide reliable service at the lowest possible cost.

The resources that a utility normally decides to use, or “dispatch,” first are its resources that have the lowest variable operating cost. These include baseload resources such as Columbia Generating Station. Next, the utility dispatches its resources that have the next highest variable operating cost; often these are midrange generators. Finally, if its loads are relatively high or may be subject to rapid fluctuations, the utility will dispatch its more expensive peaking resources.

Columbia Generating Station is one of the key resources that BPA uses to deliver clean, reliable power to public power utilities across the Northwest. Columbia produces 1,190 gross megawatts of baseload power, including both firm energy and capacity.

For wind power to produce the same amount of energy on an annual basis, more than 3,500 megawatts of wind turbines would be needed. Also, Columbia is not subject to the fluctuations that affect generation from wind and solar-PV. As a result, Columbia provides capacity that is much more firm, and does not require other forms of generating capacity to be held to provide incremental and decremental reserves to integrate wind and other intermittent forms of generation.

How do renewables and other alternative forms of resources fit In?

During the last 15 years, large amounts of new renewable resources have been developed in the Northwest. To date, the predominant share of renewable resource additions in the region have been wind power, totaling over 8,000 megawatts of installed capacity. In more recent years, falling costs and government incentives have also begun to make solar photovoltaic power more attractive.

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Nine Canyon Wind Farm, located south of Kennewick, Wash.

Wind and solar-PV differ from other existing power resources. In particular, wind and solar-PV produce power intermittently. This limits their ability to contribute to resource adequacy. However, both also have very low variable operating costs. This means that to the extent they can be integrated into the system, it is economically desirable to dispatch them early in the utility’s stack of resources.

To date, the Bonneville Power Administration has integrated over 5,000 megawatts of wind power onto its system. To do so, BPA has dedicated significant hydro resources to mirror changes in production from the wind fleet. BPA maintains 900 megawatts of generating reserves that can be rapidly increased or decreased to offset wind resource fluctuations. This illustrates how a portion of BPA’s hydro generating resources that could be used for other resource adequacy purposes are diverted and used to integrate wind power.

Other steps are being taken to deal with the greater variability created by renewable resources. These include implementing shorter, intra-hour scheduling and dispatching practices, as well as developing new energy imbalance markets.

Demand response is another type of resource that has potential to contribute to resource adequacy. Demand response is not a generating resource; instead it works by adjusting customer use of electricity to help maintain the overall supply-demand balance on the power system. For example, if overall electric loads are increasing rapidly toward peak levels, a demand response can be used to reduce certain loads of customers who have volunteered to participate, typically in exchange for compensation.

Energy Northwest partnered with the City of Richland, Cowlitz County Public Utility District, Pend Oreille County PUD and BPA on the Aggregated Demand Response Pilot Project. This project is using 35 megawatts of aggregated fast-response demand-side resources to test their use to help meet capacity needs as well as flexibility needs on the BPA grid.

Tools – We need them all

Maintaining resource adequacy requires responsible energy policy decisions, at the local, state and federal levels, policy not driven by whims and fads. For instance, having a resource like Columbia Generating Station during the Western U.S. Energy Crisis of 2000 and 2001 saved the region approximately $1.4 billion according to the Public Power Council. That could not have been anticipated in 1999.

(Post by Charlie Black)