Results tagged “Federal Columbia River Power System” from GTH Energy & Natural Resources Law Blog

The New Normal: Has Slow Load Growth and Limited Capacity Become the Norm In The Pacific Northwest?

February 7, 2013

Recent statistics from the Energy Information Administration suggest that the electricity industry's era of load growth has ended. That is, slow growth in demand is not just a result of the "Great Recession," but the product of underlying and persistent market fundamentals. These fundamentals, EIA suggests, will continue to produce modest growth in electric loads well into the future. At the same time, the strong growth in renewable generation, especially sources like wind and solar that are characterized by sometimes extreme variations in output, is creating a strong demand for peaking capacity and system flexibility. These persistent changes in electricity demand, combined with rising pressure to, for example, comply with environmental goals such as greenhouse gas reductions, is forcing a re-examination of some of the most fundamental assumptions in the industry. The Pacific Northwest is a harbinger of both industry trends because it has been a pioneer in energy conservation and because of the rapid expansion of wind capacity in the region over the last decade.

Noting a steady decline in the rate of growth of electric consumption, the EIA predicts the rate of demand growth will be less than one percent in the future. The EIA's conclusions are supported by a clear trend-line. Electricity consumption grew at an annual rate of 9.8% in the decade between 1949 and 1959, but it has dropped steadily in each decade since, with growth averaging only 0.7% per year during the first decade of this century. With continuing innovation in energy conservation technologies, one might reasonably conclude that growth in demand will be even slower. For example, highly efficient LED lights are poised for a major leap into the market for electric lighting. The Department of Energy estimates this technology alone could save as much as 348 TWh of electricity by 2027. Similar technological leaps in energy conservation, using, for example, nanotechnology, may be on the horizon.

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Wind War Subplot: Challenge to Washington Gas Limits Fails, Barrier to Increased Spill Remains in Place

December 11, 2012

Washington State's Court of Appeals recently upheld the Washington Department of Ecology's decision to retain existing water quality standards limiting dissolved gases at hydroelectric dams. The decision carries significance well beyond the specific dispute resolved by the court because it limits one avenue -- increased spill -- that may have relieved some of the pressure on the Bonneville Power Administration ("BPA") to integrate increasing amounts of variable wind generation into the regional grid. As we have previously reported, BPA's decision to require curtailments of wind generation during high-wind/high-water events has produced contentious litigation, pitting the Northwest's wind generators against BPA and its public power customers. Although it does not directly address the issues involved in that litigation, the Court of Appeals decision nonetheless has significant bearing on the BPA litigation because it means that BPA's non-curtailment options will continue to be limited.

The Court of Appeals case, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association v. Department of Ecology, arose from a petition filed by a group of fisheries and environmental advocates asking the Department of Ecology to raise its Total Dissolved Gas ("TDG") standards to accommodate greater flows over the dams. TDG standards are aimed at preventing damage to fish and other aquatic species from gas-bubble trauma. Gas-bubble trauma occurs when excessive levels of atmospheric gases in the water column are absorbed by aquatic creatures and then released in their tissues as gas bubbles, much like "the bends" in a human diver. Gas-bubble trauma can cause significant physiological damage or even death, and is therefore of concern for the Columbia Basin's salmon and steelhead runs, including several listed under the Endangered Species Act. The fisheries advocates who filed the petition believe that TDG limits can be raised by the Department of Ecology without threatening significantly greater damage to fisheries from gas-bubble trauma, and that higher TDG limits will accommodate greater spill over the Columbia Basin's dams, leading to an improvement in the survival of salmon smolts migrating downstream.

Greater latitude for spill would also give BPA some additional flexibility to manage springtime conditions, in which high run-off in the river system often coincides with high winds and high power production from the region's wind fleet. In such conditions, BPA has sometimes curtailed production from wind generators because generation during periods of high wind combined with production from federal dams in the region exceeded the demand during that period. An additional margin for spill would allow BPA to spill additional water over the Columbia Basin's dams rather than running it through turbines (which produces significantly lower concentrations of dissolved gas but also power when it is not always needed). Because less power would then be produced by hydroelectric turbines, there would be a greater margin for allowing wind generators to produce without curtailments.

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