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Council says NW Winter Power Supply Adequate

by Associated Press
Capital Press, November 2, 2001

PORTLAND (AP) -- A gloomy economy and aluminum plant closures in the Pacific Northwest turned out to have a bright side -- electricity demand has declined enough so that analysts believe the region will avoid any power blackouts this winter.

Without the huge reduction in electricity use caused by widespread layoffs and plant closures, chances were nearly one in three that the Northwest would have suffered winter blackouts, said Dick Watson, one of the chief analysts for the Northwest Power Planning Council.

"This is quite a dramatic change," Watson said Oct. 18 as he presented the annual winter power forecast to the four-state council.

The region also benefited from accelerated development of new generating capacity totaling 900 megawatts of electricity -- almost enough for the city of Seattle. By the end of the year, about 1,650 megawatts of new generation should be on line, with and additional 530 megawatts operating on temporary permits, Watson said.

The Northwest has been suffering from a drought that has reduced the hydropower supply by about 4,000 megawatts, enough power for four Seattle's.

Nearly half the electricity in the region is supplied by the Bonneville Power Administration thorough its system of dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

The BPA has been forced to spill less water for migrating fish in order to maintain power production, raising concerns about the impact on future salmon runs. But wholesale electricity prices still skyrocketed to 10 times normal levels on the spot market earlier this year because of supply problems caused by deregulation and the California energy crisis.

"This has been a bad year for fish, for aluminum company employees and for ratepayers," said council member Tom Kara of Spokane, Wash.

He called for increased energy conservation to help stabilize the power supply and prices.

"We're on a roller coaster ride here," Karier said, "and we want to get off. ..."

But council Chairman Frank Cassidy Jr. said he doubted that consumers or many businesses would maintain their thrifty ways if there no longer appears to be an energy crisis.

"We pretty much know the answer to that is no," Cassidy said.

Watson said the bulk of the conservation would have to come from businesses, farmers and large industries. But consumers can help by buying energy-efficient appliances or exchanging electricity-hungry fluorescent bulbs now available for lamps and other light fixtures.

Watson also said the improved winter forecast assumes average rain and snowfall in the next several months. But an extremely dry winter or prolonged cold snap could boost the chances for power shortages, he said.

Karier said the long-term outlook is good.

"There is every indication that we are back on track for a better year," he said. "It really marks a dramatic reversal of our power situation in the Northwest."

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.

Associated Press
Council says NW Winter Power Supply Adequate
Capital Press, November 2, 2001

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