Electricity Surplus Predictedby Staff
Capital Press, March 8, 2006
Rates won't go down
COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho - Consumers shouldn't expect a decrease in power rates despite a predicted surplus of river-generated electricity this year.
"We have a whole lot more megawatts than we're going to have demand for," said John Harrison, spokesman for the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, an intergovernmental agency that studies regional power needs.
Power companies say they still have debt from recent dought years, when they had to buy power on the open market.
"We won't see a change of rates," Hugh Imhof, spokesman for Spokane, Wash.-based Avista Utilities, told The Spokesman-Review.
Idaho Power customers could pay higher electricity bills if some water the company uses to generate power is diverted to recharge the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer.
Two bills introduced in the Legislature last week would divert Snake River water from hydroelectric dams to replenish the aquifer, which was depleted by six consecutive years of drought.
All 19 Idaho river basins have received higher-than-average precipitation since October, according to meteorologists with the Natural Resource Conservation Service. Remote monitoring stations operated by the federal government indicate that most mountains in the Idaho Panhandle and Eastern Washington have between 90 percent and 110 percent of their usual snowpack.
The Northwest River Forecast Center predicts that runoff for the Columbia River basin between January and July will be 100 percent of normal, or about 107 million acre feet at The Dalles Dam, located on the Columbia River about 190 miles from the river's mouth.
According to the council, surplus from Columbia River Basin runoff alone could generate as much as 8,000 megawatts, enough to power six cities the size of Seattle.
About 40 percent of the region's power supply comes from rivers. Officials say this year's snowpack should eliminate the need for power companies to buy power outside the region.Imhof said the surplus power declaration might be premature - that it's too early to make final snowpack predictions.
"We usually don't make any forecasts until April," he said. "That's when the snowpack peaks."
Besides generating power, melting snowpack provides water for crops, helps reduce threats of wildfires, offers better conditions for fish and replenishes aquifers.
"Having year after year of drought really puts a lot of pressure on the whole system," said John Tracy, director of the University of Idaho's Water Research Institute. "This year it looks like we're over that."
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