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Light Snowpack Doesn't Mean Power Shortages,
Agency Says

by Staff
Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, February 18, 2005

Making their points

Low snowpacks aren't likely to lead to a power shortage this year, but the cost of electricity may go up a notch, a regional power council announced Wednesday.

The analysis by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council concludes that while runoff forecasts for the Columbia River Basin are far below normal at this time, other sources can compensate for decreased output from the region's dams.

The drawback will be those sources, primarily natural gas-fired power plants, is more expensive than hydropower, the analysis said.

"The worst we would face is slightly higher prices this summer, but the good news is that we do not face a power shortage," Chairwoman Melinda Eden, the Oregon delegate to the council who lives in the Milton-Freewater area, said in a release Thursday.

While snowpack in British Columbia, where the Columbia River begins, is 90 to 100 percent of normal, snowpack in Northeastern Washington and Northern Idaho is just 25 to 50 percent of normal.

In the Blue Mountains above Touchet, the snowpack Thursday was just 28 percent of normal, according to the National Resource Conservation Service.

Combined with other below-normal snow levels elsewhere in the Columbia River Basin, the spring runoff is expected to be 77 percent of normal, or 82.4 million acre-feet, as measured at The Dalles Dam on the Columbia River.

If dry weather continues and precipitation is only 75 percent of normal, runoff would be 71.6 million acre-feet, the analysis said.

Although low, that is not as low as the drought years of 2001, when runoff was 58 million acre-feet, and 1977, when runoff was 54 million acre-feet, according to the release.

Unlike 2001, when the drought exacerbated an existing West Coast power shortage, the Northwest currently has a power surplus of about 1,500 megawatts. That is more than enough power for a city the size of Seattle, the analysis said.

The risk of extremely high prices for power, such as resulted in 2001, is also low. Because of the drought and reduced runoff, the Northwest suffered a 4,000-megawatt power deficit that year. As a result, wholesale power prices rose to extraordinary levels.

Light Snowpack Doesn't Mean Power Shortages, Agency Says
Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, February 18, 2005

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