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Rainy March may Lead to Smaller Power-Price Hike

by Steve Ernst
Puget Sound Business Journal, May 2, 2003

Those wet, dreary days in March were good for something.

Rainfall during the month of March was enough to lift the region's river levels by more than 10 percent, bringing what could be some much-needed good news to the Bonneville Power Administration.

The BPA hopes to nibble away at its deficit by selling surplus power this summer. The rains of March mean river levels in the Northwest will be about 81 percent of average. In February, rivers were running at about 70 percent of normal.

More water could mean that the BPA has more surplus power to sell and more revenue.

Any additional revenue could be enough to trim a few percentage points off of the BPA's proposed 15 percent rate hike that may take effect this fall.

It's still too early to say for sure, but BPA officials are recalculating what the fall rate increase may be, said Ed Mosey, BPA spokesperson.

"We are really hoping for a cool spring," Mosey said. "A nice and cool, damp spring would help retain the snowpack."

Retaining the snowpack means more water could start rolling out of the mountains in June or July, just as the temperature starts to climb in the Southwest and California. The perfect time for BPA to have a surplus of power to sell.

The region's rivers will still be running below normal this year, but levels could have been much worse.

"At the end of January and early February, it was shaping up to be one of the worst water years throughout the West," said Pascal Storck, vice president of 3Tier Environmental Forecast Group Inc., a Seattle-based company that helps utilities forecast river flows.

"This year we got really lucky," he said. "Going into the year, we were looking at a moderate El Niņo, but that backed off early in the winter."

Those same weather patterns that brought March rains to the Northwest also brought rain and snow to the Sierra Nevadas of California.

That could mean California may have an abundance of hydroelectricity when it needs it most, limiting the need for Northwest power.

"A glut of power in California will depress power prices," Storck said. "But it's really hard to speculate what power prices are going to do. It's a lot like the stock market."

Fish slide aims to protect steelhead, juvenile salmon.

One of the world's most expensive water slides opened for business last month in Chelan County, but don't plan on riding the 4,600-foot-long slide.

The slide is for endangered juvenile salmon and steelhead and is designed to whisk the smolts past the turbines of Rocky Reach Dam on the Columbia River.

Known as the Rocky Reach Dam Juvenile Fish Bypass, the project cost $112 million and took a year to build. The Chelan County Public Utility District paid for the revolutionary slide after studying fish movement around the dam for 20 years.

The fish slide is a pipe that is 9 feet in diameter and runs 4,600 feet around the dam. It collects fish upstream of the dam and carries them around the turbines, releasing them in deep, fast-moving currents.

The trip takes the fish between six and eight minutes, according to the PUD.

About 96 percent of the water used to push the fish downstream is returned to the dam's forebay, where it can be used to make electricity, according to the PUD.

Steve Ernst
Rainy March may Lead to Smaller Power-Price Hike
Puget Sound Business Journal, May 2, 2003

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