Energy Surplus Predicted to Lastby James Hagengruber, Staff writer
The Spokesman Review, July 15, 2004
Wind power, conservation keys to stability
Power from the wind and increased conservation will add stability to Northwest energy prices, according to a report presented Wednesday at a monthly meeting of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council in Spokane.
Because of a sluggish economy and the lack of production from aluminum smelters, the four-state region continues to experience a significant surplus in power – enough to supply three cities the size of Seattle – but a boost in conservation will offer insurance against dry years and the type of price spikes experienced in 2001, according to Tom Eckman, conservation resources manager for the agency.
Conserving power is needed, Eckman said, "not because it's green, it's because it's cheap."
The group, which was formerly known as the Northwest Power Planning Council, consists of two governor-appointed members from each state in the region. The council's decisions influence energy policy for utilities and local governments. The group is currently drafting a new long-term energy plan, which is expected to be released for public comment next month.
Analysts predict the region's current energy surplus will last for another decade. By conserving an additional 30 to 50 megawatts per year, the surplus will last even longer and give utilities more time to develop new sources of power, Eckman said. Wind is being considered as the most viable option for a stable energy supply, but new gas-fired power plants and potential new oil sources from Alberta are also being explored.
The conservation is expected to come from a variety of sources – everything from consumer incentives to purchase energy efficient appliances to improvements in farm irrigation pumps. One of the biggest opportunities is in residential lighting, Eckman said. If every home in the Northwest switched to fluorescent lighting the region would save about 530 megawatts per year, which amounts to about half the power used by Seattle.
"Little things add up to a lot," Eckman said.
In other action Wednesday, the council approved a change in the way habitat is managed for bull trout and kokanee salmon in Montana and Idaho. With Oregon members opposing the plan, the council voted in favor of changing water discharge rates for dams at Montana's Hungry Horse and Libby reservoirs.
Until now, the dams would release two pulses of water in July and August. The first surge was sent to help white sturgeon in the Kootenai River in northwestern Montana and North Idaho. The last was to improve spawning for salmon far downstream near the Pacific coast. The council now wants the same amount of water to be released, but in a steady flow over the course of three months. The experiment is expected to improve spawning conditions for bull trout and kokanee, said Ed Bartlett, a council member from Montana.
"It would be a huge, huge benefit," Bartlett said.
Oregon council members voted against the measure because it could result in a slight drop in flows in the lower Columbia.
In another salmon-related issue, Rob Walton, assistant regional administrator for NOAA-Fisheries, said a recent Bush administration decision to count hatchery-bred salmon as equals to their wild cousins probably won't have a big impact any time soon on the management of river flows in the Inland Northwest. The federal government is currently reviewing the status of all 27 threatened or endangered West Coast salmon runs. In Eastern Washington and Idaho, only one of the seven listed runs is expected to change because of the new hatchery policy, Walton said.
Upper Columbia steelhead could be upgraded from endangered to threatened once hatchery fish are included in their population count, Walton said. The status review won't be completed for another year, he added. Eventually, the new policy will make it easier to remove salmon runs from the Endangered Species Act protection, but the impact probably won't be as dramatic as originally predicted.
"It's not a cure-all," Walton said, adding that protecting spawning habitat remains vitally important. "You need to have the natural system functioning."
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