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Winter Power Forecast Shines Blackout-Free

by William McCall, Associated Press
Seattle Times, October 20, 2001

PORTLAND -- A gloomy economy and aluminum-plant closures in the Pacific Northwest turned out to have a bright side: Electricity demand has declined enough that analysts believe the region will avoid 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, a chief analyst for the Northwest Power Planning Council.

"This is quite a dramatic change," Watson said Thursday 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 is expected to be online permanently, with an 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 Seattles.

Nearly half the electricity in the region is supplied by the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) through 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 concern about 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 Karier of Spokane.

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 this roller coaster."

But council Chairman Frank Cassidy Jr. said he doubted 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 light bulbs for fluorescent bulbs now available for lamps and other light fixtures.

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

Karier said the long-term outlook is good.

"There is every indication now 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.


William McCall, Associated Press
Winter Power Forecast Shines Blackout-Free
Seattle Times, October 20, 2001

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