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Council Predicts Adequate Northwest Winter Power Supply

by William McCall, Associated Press
The Oregonian, October 18, 2001

PORTLAND, Ore. -- The Pacific Northwest should be able to avoid power blackouts this winter after new generating capacity was added to produce another 900 megawatts of electricity -- nearly enough for the city of Seattle.

The Northwest Power Planning Council said Thursday the impact of drought has reduced the region's hydropower supply by about 4,000 megawatts, enough power for four Seattles.

The power shortage drove up wholesale energy prices to 10 times their normal level last winter, but businesses and homeowners have responded by conserving electricity, or have cut back operations due to the economic downturn, the council said.

The aluminum industry, the largest single consumer of electricity, shut down most of its Northwest plants, further reducing overall demand by a total of about 20 percent.

In addition, construction of new power plants was accelerated, both in the Northwest and in California, and water storage was increased at Snake and Columbia river hydroelectric dams. But the council was forced last summer to advise the Bonneville Power Administration to spill only enough water to aid migrating fish without jeopardizing the power supply.

As a result, the council does not expect any brownouts or blackouts this winter, said Tom Karier of Spokane, Wash., chairman of the council's Power Committee.

"According to our analysis, there is less than a 1 percent probability of power deficits this winter," Karier said. "That is a vast improvement over the 12 percent probability we predicted just last spring."

The improved winter forecast assumes average rain and snowfall in the next several months. But an extremely dry winter or a prolonged cold snap could boost the chances for power shortages, said Dick Watson, director of the council's power division.

He said increased conservation, mostly from businesses rather than consumers, will be the key to maintaining stable energy prices in the region.

"We have to find a way to get conservation on a sustained level and not jerk it up and down with every blip in the market," Watson said.

Karier, however, remained optimistic about the long-term outlook.

"This has been a bad year for fish, for aluminum company employees and for ratepayers," he said. "But there is every indication now that we are back on track for a better year."

The council, a four-state federal agency created by the Northwest Power Act of 1980, serves Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington. It is charged with balancing power production with fish and wildlife protection in the Columbia River Basin.

William McCall, Associated Press
Council Predicts Adequate Northwest Winter Power Supply
The Oregonian, October 18, 2001

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