Hydropower

Hydropower Stretched to Limit in U.S. Northwest

The continuing dry spell in the pacific northwest of the United States is leading to a “bleak outlook” for the generation of electricity this summer from the region’s hydroelectric facilities.

PORTLAND, Oregon, US, 2001-03-30 <SolarAccess.com> This summer may be “the driest or second-driest year on record,” warns the Northwest Power Planning Council. The amount of water spilled over dams along the Columbia and Snake rivers must be reduced to ease potential power supply problems, although NPPC acknowledges that this action will make it difficult for endangered species of salmon and steelhead to migrate to the ocean. NPPC is also concerned about the ability to refill the dam reservoirs in time to meet peak power needs next winter. To avoid power shortages, it says the changes in hydropower operations need to be combined with a number of other actions, including accelerated energy conservation, demand-reduction efforts, and installation of emergency generators. “The water conditions we are facing this year give us few options,” says chairman Larry Cassidy. “The region could lose almost 8,000 megawatt months of electricity – enough for Seattle for more than six months – and incur a cost to replace that power of more than $1.4 billion” if water levels are low and no remedial actions are taken. “Our best option probably is to take our medicine now by curtailing some spill and using that water to generate power, and ensure that the reservoirs refill for next winter’s peak electricity use,” he explains. “Reduced spill and use of emergency hydro should not be the end of the story,” he adds. “These actions need to be combined with energy conservation, demand-reduction efforts and emergency generation.” An analysis concludes that reducing the amount of water spilled will ease potential power supply problems. Spilled water is not used to generate electricity, but is important for threatened and endangered species of fish to migrate. The Northwest can reduce the risk of power blackouts next winter and ensure there is enough water in storage reservoirs to aid fish migration in 2002 by continuing limited use of emergency hydropower this spring and summer, importing power from outside the region if it is available and affordable, accelerating conservation programs that promise short-term savings, and reducing commercial and industrial demand with new equipment and economic incentives. It recommends that conservation programs be accelerated to deliver in the short term, and demand be reduced through buybacks and demand exchanges. The region should install temporary emergency generation while protecting air quality, and temporarily relax restrictions for plants that are out of service.