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Commentaries and editorials

Region Needs More Power

by Bert Caldwell
The Spokesman Review
- July 9, 2000

Rumblings of distant power shortages in the Northwest last week broke like a sudden summer electrical storm.

The immediate damage was confined to a few industrial plants, but officials predict the impacts will spread unless the region adds generating and transmission resources to meet growing demand.

New facilities are almost sure to increase the cost of electricity in the region, which historically has paid the lowest rates in the country thanks to the numerous hydroelectric dams.

Utility managers scrambling for megawatts as temperatures soared paid more than 50 times the usual going rate for this time of year.

Avista Utilities asked customers to avoid unnecessary use of electricity from 4 to 7 p.m., when the price of megawatts to keep air conditioners and other appliances going peaks.

In addition to high temperatures, last week's developments were caused by untimely outages at four of the region's major generating plants, including the 1,100-megawatt Columbia Generating Plant at Hanford.

Also, hydroelectric output in the Columbia Basin was constrained by spillage for fish passage downstream, although the Bonneville Power Administration briefly declared an emergency that permitted dam operators to direct more water through the turbines.

Bonneville had alerted the region to impending power shortages in a 1998 white paper, and the Northwest Power Planning Council amplified those warnings in an Adequacy/Reliability Study released in March.

The Power Planning Council says there's a 24 percent chance of a shortage within the next four winters, an unacceptably high risk. To meet demand rising at a rate of almost 2 percent a year, the panel says at least 3,000 megawatts of new generation are needed.

Avista will solicit proposals for new supplies sometime next month, said Bob Lafferty, manager for resource optimization.

But most of the resources proposed now will not be available until late in the four-year period. Meantime, utility managers and customers alike may be juggling kilowatts in order to keep demand and supply in balance.

Bert Caldwell
Region Needs More Power
The Spokesman Review July 9, 2000

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