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Economic and dam related articles

Tab for Saving NW Fish
Nears $700 Million

by Steven Johnson
Electric Co-Op Today, June 18, 2014

Lower Granite Dam in SE Washington state impounds the Lower Snake forty miles up beyond the Idaho border. There have only been a handful of generating systems in history with a higher capacity factor than this, and all were nuclear. As reported by Annette Cary, the previous fiscal year record for the nuclear plant was 9.5 billion kWhrs in 2006 (Tri-City Herald).

The nuclear power plant is operated by Energy Northwest, which sells all the power at cost to the Bonneville Power Administration. Energy Northwest also operates the White Bluffs Solar Station (38.7 kW with a cf = 15%), the Packwood Lake Hydroelectric Project (27.5 MW with a cf = 38%), and the Nine Canyon Wind Project (96 MW with a cf = 31%). The combined output of these non-fossil fuel systems exceeds 10 billion kWhrs/year, enough energy to power a city the size of Seattle, having a total capacity of 1,300 MW with an average combined capacity factor of >90%.

All for between 4.7 - 5.2 ยข/kWh now and for the next 30 years. Can't get much more reliable or cost-effective than that.

Energy Northwest's Packwood Lake Hydroelectric Project began operating in 1964 and, like most hydro systems, produces the lowest-cost, lowest CO2-emitting electricity of any system in the world. Both the Nine Canyon Wind project and the White Bluffs Solar Station began producing electricity in 2002.

Energy Northwest is also poised to take over operations of the Tieton Dam Hydroelectric Project (15.6 MW) which is fairly close to its Packwood Lake site, increasing its renewable footprint even further.

This is what power companies should be. A public, not-for-profit, entity whose job is to provide reliable, cheap, low-carbon energy at cost, i.e. just covering expenses.

Energy Northwest is exactly what the Environmental Protection Agency's new carbon rules are supposed to encourage - a diverse mix of non-fossil fuel generating systems that includes nuclear and emits less than 100 grams of CO2 per kWhr of electricity produced (EPA Chief Gina McCarthy). Energy Northwest emits less than 20 gCO2/kWhr in its entire group of nuclear, wind, hydro and solar.

Last month, the EPA released its proposed rules for reducing carbon emissions from the nation's power plants in an effort to address the negative impacts of climate change. The goal of this Clean Power Plan is to reduce carbon emissions from American power plants by 30% over 2005 levels between now and 2030. It allows states lots of flexibility to meet these goals with any mix of conservation, efficiency, renewables, retrofitting coal plants with gas (NREL), or building new-design nuclear (Platts).

According to the Wall Street Journal, this plan squeezes different states differently, and punishes the cleanest states. So Washington State, with the lowest emissions of any state, is required to reduce its carbon emissions by 79%, the highest cut of any state. Contrast that with Kentucky, which has one of the highest emissions, and is only required to reduce by 18%.

Ah... but that difference is an illusion created by using percentages instead of absolute numbers. Kentucky has to cut much more carbon than Washington State to meet it's seemingly lower goal (Washington Post - see interactive map for each state). Washington State is already the least emitting state, being over 80% non-fossil fuel, a combination of hydro, nuclear, wind and solar, so there isn't much to cut. Just closing its sole coal plant will more than meet the Plan's goals, and the State had already decided to do that a few years ago. Basically, Washington State has already met its goals.

Kentucky, on the other hand, is almost completely coal, with no nuclear, a trivial amount of hydro and little renewables, so cutting 18% of its emissions will require the Herculean effort of closing four or five of its 21 coal-fired power plants, or converting six or seven to natural gas, a much more difficult and costly task than Washington State.

Washington State has the added benefit of not being much beholden to shareholders. Energy Northwest is actually part of a public agency, formed as a Washington State joint operating agency in 1957. The organization was created to serve the needs of public power by producing reliable, low-cost electricity while promoting public power activities in the region. Today the joint operating agency membership includes nearly every public power utility district in the state of Washington and several municipalities.

Energy Northwest has a cooperative relationship with Bonneville Power Administration which is itself a federal non-profit agency. BPA's territory includes Washington, Oregon, Idaho, western Montana and small parts of eastern Montana, California, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming. About one-third of the electric power used in the Northwest comes from BPA, and BPA operates and maintains about three-quarters of the high-voltage transmission in its territory.

Although BPA is technically part of the U.S. Department of Energy, it is self-funding and covers its costs by selling its products and services to utilities and industry. BPA markets wholesale electrical power from 31 federal hydroelectric projects in the Columbia River Basin, one non-federal nuclear plant (CGS) and several other small non-federal power plants. The huge hydroelectric dams are operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation.

The nuclear reactor at Columbia Generating Station had no refueling outage in the past 12 months and operated almost five years without an unplanned shutdown, said Energy Northwest spokesman John Dobken, who also credits the record generation to "the EN team's focus on performance excellence and equipment reliability."

Just a year ago, Energy Northwest earned the American Public Power Association's Safety Award of Excellence, which recognized Energy Northwest as number one in safety among utilities in its category (500 to 2,000 employees).

Another positive feature of the nuclear power plant is it can perform a moderate amount of load following, ramping down to 85% power in 15 minutes if needed, to compensate for high run-off through the federal hydro system, which helps BPA protect critical fish species.

All in all, if the country as a whole can install nuclear and renewable energy mixes like this one, we'll have gone a long way to meeting our future energy needs, as well as protecting our planet.

Steven Johnson
Tab for Saving NW Fish Nears $700 Million
Electric Co-Op Today, June 18, 2014

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