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Economic and dam related articles

Council Analyzes Cost of
Requested Spill, Flow Aug for Fish

by Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin - November 18, 2005

NPCC analysis shows a 4,600 megawatt-month reduction in generation in January.
The average cost of that power would be $348 million, according to the analysis.

Requested increases in the water spilled at Columbia and Snake river hydro projects next spring and summer and changes in river flows to aid juvenile salmon and steelhead migration in 2006 could cost the region a range from $125 million to $560 million, according to preliminary analysis of impacts on power generation completed by Northwest Power and Conservation Council staff.

The increased fish bypass spill and greater volumes of flow augmentation are being sought by a coalition of fishing and conservation groups in an ongoing federal lawsuit that successfully challenged federal plans for operation of the Columbia/Snake federal hydrosystem.

Implementing the requested injunction would also "have a detrimental effect on the adequacy of power supply, if increased curtailment of fish and wildlife operations during power emergencies were not allowed," according to the analysis. That would, potentially, increase the risk of power failures.

Electricity Energy Costs of U.S. Households
  All U.S. Households Electricity Costs
as percent of
Household Income
Occupied Housing Units 91,947,410
Average Annual Electricity Cost $851
Wealthy 1%   1%
Wealthy 5%   2%
90% of population   9%

U.S. District Judge James A. Redden in Portland earlier this year declared NOAA Fisheries' hydrosystem "biological opinion" illegal, and last month told the agency and federal action agencies to develop within a year a legal operational plan that does not jeopardize the survival of salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The plaintiffs, led by the National Wildlife Federation, filed a request for injunctive relief that they say is necessary to improve fish survivals until that new BiOp is complete. Their operational prescription would increase spills for fish passage and augment flows over those called for in NOAA's 2004 BiOp, which Redden left in place while a new biological opinion is being rewritten.

The oral arguments regarding the request for changed spill and flow regimes next year are scheduled Dec. 15 in Oregon's U.S. District Court in Portland. The fishing and conservation groups asked the judge on Oct. 31 to order the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation, which operate the dams, to implement the proposed changes during next spring and summer's salmon migrations and in winter to increase water storage.

"The Council is not asserting a position on the plaintiffs' proposal," Council Chair Melinda Eden said Thursday in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, where the Council reviewed the analysis. The NPCC is not a party to the lawsuit but has filed as a friend of the court or amicus.

"This is a power system analysis, not a biological analysis. We intend it to assist the region. The Council is a regional planning agency -- neither a utility nor a fish and wildlife agency," Eden said. "We are in the best position to provide this analysis because we have expertise in modeling the Northwest power system and because we are neutral in this matter."

In order to provide the increased river flows and spills over dams next spring and summer, water storage would have to increase this winter. That would reduce hydropower generation in the winter but increase it in the spring and summer when the water is released, according to the John Fazio, who led the analysis.

The primary storage dams are Grand Coulee on the Columbia River and Dworshak Dam on the North Fork Clearwater River, a Snake tributary, and above Hungry Horse and Libby dams in Montana. The additional water releases would mean that Lake Roosevelt behind Grand Coulee Dam would be 10 feet lower by the end of August and Dworshak would be six feet lower than under existing operating plans, according to Fazio.

The analysis calculates a net cost for the proposed operations in 2006 that ranges from a low of $125 million to a high of $560 million depending on water conditions, demand for power and its price.

The power generated in the federal Columbia/Snake river power system is marketed by the Bonneville Power Administration, which estimated that the summer spill ordered by the court this year alone cost from $73.2 million to $74.5 million. That agency said the additional spill costs forced it to pare from 6 percent to 1.6 percent a reduction in the rate it charges wholesale power customers in fiscal year 2006.

The net cost is the result of two components: 1) the cost of power purchases and the value of foregone hydropower revenue during winter when water is stored instead of being run through turbines, offset by 2) income that would be derived from selling surplus hydropower in the spring and summer when the water is released.

"This assumes that the market would be large enough to absorb the expected changes in hydro generation -- an assumption that may not be valid under some conditions," according to a Nov. 17 memo from Fazio to the NPCC.

The costs are high because new power plants could not be built in time to make up the lost hydropower this winter, and so the region's utilities would have to rely on demand-reduction programs and power from temporary generators, which is more expensive than hydropower, Fazio says.

The NPCC analysis shows a whopping average 4,600 megawatt-month reduction in generation in January from the proposed operation. That's enough to supply four cities the size of Seattle for one month, according Fazio's memo. The average cost of that power would be $348 million, according to the analysis. That's nearly five times the next costliest month ($77 million in April) in the analysis' calculation of average change in hydro generation and cost/benefit.

The Northwest region has a surplus of power resource capability of about 2,000 megawatts on average that is distributed unevenly across the year with a surplus of only about 500 in winter's peak demand period and 4,500 megawatts in summer.

Average Change in Hydro Generation
and Cost/Benefit

Period Change in Generation
Average Cost
(cents per kwh)
November 441 -$22 6.9
December -486 $26 7.2
January -4,638 $348 10.1
February -355 $27 11.3
March 1,490 -$65 5.9
April 1-15 -900 $49 15.1
April 16-30 -527 $28 14.7
May 1,459 -$53 4.9
June 320 -$12 5.2
July -868 $40 6.2
August 1-15 12 -$1 n/a
August 16-31 -523 $30 14.9
Total -4,605 $395 this column by bluefish

"Changing the hydro generation pattern, as called for in the proposed operation, would put the power supply into a deficit situation over winter months," according to the memo.

The analysis also assesses the impact of the proposed operations on power system reliability, expressed as "loss of load probability" -- the probability that the power system will be unable to meet demand for power.

The Council designed its Fifth Northwest Power Plan, completed in December 2004, around a zero loss-of-load probability. The region's loss-of-load probability is near zero now.

According to the power plan, the power system is reliable when there is an acceptable risk of avoiding power price volatility up to 5 percent loss-of-load probability. Five percent is also the accepted limit in the power industry.

According to the NPCC analysis, implementing the proposed operations in 2006 would increase the loss-of-load probability to 7.5 percent if the operations could not be curtailed during power emergencies such as severe cold weather that sends demand for power soaring.

However, if the operations could be curtailed in emergencies to a greater extent than the biological opinion currently allows, the loss-of-load probability could be maintained near the present level.

The analysis notes other anticipated "physical impacts" from the operations proposed in the request to the court for injunctive relief:

The Council's analysis is posted on its website,

The Council is an agency of the states of Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington and is directed by the Northwest Power Act of 1980 to prepare a program to protect, mitigate and enhance fish and wildlife of the Columbia River Basin affected by hydropower dams while also assuring the region an adequate, efficient, economical and reliable power supply.

Related Sites:
Northwest Power and Conservation Council:
Fish Passage Center:

Council Analyzes Cost of Requested Spill, Flow Aug for Fish
Columbia Basin Bulletin, November 18, 2005

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