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Power Agencies Say Electricity Situation Is OK

by Bryan Johnson
KOMO, March 17, 2005

TACOMA -- Bonneville Power and local utilities told a legislative committee in Olympia Thursday that Washington state will not face an energy shortage despite a record low snowpack and lower river flows.

John Hairston, vice president of generation supply for Bonneville, told the House Technology and Energy committee that the region actually has a power surplus, largely because of the decrease in the number of Direct Service Industries with Bonneville contracts (Aluminum companies and similar large used who have either closed or curtailed operations).

But Puget Sound Energy's Julie Ryan warned that purchasing high cost power from gas-fired plants could increase energy costs. She noted the price of electricity has risen 41 percent since last October.

Ryan says PSE will have adequate power to meet its customers needs; the only question is the cost. She called it "too early" to say if rate increases will be needed, but said any increase would have to be approved by the Utilities and Transportation Commission and would not be likely before next year, if even then.

Seattle City Light says it has priced its power using extremely conservative power availability predictions and no price increases are necessary, even if the purchase of some high cost power in necessary.

Both Tacoma Power and Seattle City Light warned lawmakers that providing adequate in-stream flow for fish and power for people could result in lowered reservoir levels with resultant curtailment of recreational opportunities.

This was obvious behind Tacoma's Alder Lake; although the utility points out it is a small reservoir that can change dramatically with a few days of heavy rain.

This is because water going through dams uses up the water behind the dams, unless it is replaced by snowmelt, glacier melt, rainfall or springs.

There's only 1 to 5 percent of normal snow pack in the hills to refill Alder Lake.

The fenced-off swimming area at Alder Lake Park is now fenced-off rocks. And a depth marker measures that reads from 12 feet to "don't dive, low water" is now completely exposed.

That prompted one park visitor Cheryl Munns to tell KOMO 4 news: "It should say no diving, no water," she laughed.

Park officials aren't laughing. They say continued drought could hurt tourism. Some 100,000 people stop by the park in an average year.

Bryan Smith described the visitors this way: "They come up and sun bathe and water ski. That's what we do here -- we don't have a lot of trails and stuff like that."

He says a major cutback in tourism would hurt surrounding small towns and the nearby city of Eatonville.

Alder Lake is not alone. Seattle City Light's popular Diablo Lake could face its own problems.

Utility planners say to keep lights burning, lakes may have to be lowered. Recreation, they say, could be the unintended victim.

Bryan Johnson
Power Agencies Say Electricity Situation Is OK
KTVB, March 17, 2005

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