Northwest Power Draft Plan Sees
by Rob Chaney
Montanans have a chance to weigh in on a plan that tells one of the biggest power suppliers in the nation how to manage its business.
The Northwest Power and Conservation Council meets in Kalispell on Monday and in Missoula on Tuesday for public comment on its latest Northwest Power Plan.
The document guides the Bonneville Power Administration and its customers, which include many of the customer-owned rural electric cooperatives in western Montana. While it covers 20 years of activity, the plan is revised every five years.
"We anticipate demand increasing about 5,000 average megawatts -- roughly five cities of Seattle worth of power -- in the region over the next 20 years," said NPCC spokesman John Harrison. "We can meet 4,500 megawatts, about 80 percent of that, with new investments in energy conservation and demand response management. That's the primary resource we turn to."
Energy conservation involves upgrading existing plants to get more electricity from the same amount of fuel or water consumed.
Demand-response management means discounting power at off-peak times when it's available and charging more for peak periods (early mornings, cold snaps and heat waves) when demand spikes.
The remainder would have to come from new generation. Harrison said the plan anticipates getting almost all of its new generation from natural gas-fired plants, with some additional solar and wind sources possible. Nuclear energy is not a strong option in the plan.
"We think we can't adequately provide power over the next 20 years without using the most efficient of those resources, which is natural gas," Harrison said. "But some of our critics don't like that we see need for continued use of natural gas-fired power plants. We see natural gas plants as the efficient and low-carbon source that we need."
David Merrill of the Sierra Club's Missoula office said many in his membership were concerned about that aspect of the power plan.
"We want to hold the line against future fossil fuel development, especially natural gas infrastructure," Merrill said. "We'd rather they rely on efficiency measures or developing cost-effective renewable power."
While most of the customers affected directly by the plan are in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, its analysis can have influence on other, non-BPA utilities.
"Our plan would not affect investor-owned utilities such as NorthWestern Energy," Harrison said. "But their planning will consult our plan and its analyses. Making comparisons helps them meet their future demand."
The plan also accounts for the retirement of three coal-fired power plants between 2020 and 2026. They are the Boardman plant in Oregon, Centralia plant in Washington and North Valmy plant in Nevada.
Harrison said while the plan isn't carbon-free, it does meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's carbon dioxide emission limits for the region.
Both hearings take place from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Kalispell's hearing is in the Flathead Electric Office, while Missoula's occurs in the DoubleTree Hotel. The complete plan is available online at nwcouncil.org/news/blog/comment-on-draft-7th-power-plan/.
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