Council, BPA Set Standards
by Associated Press
KALISPELL - The Northwest Power and Conservation Council and the Bonneville Power Administration have adopted new regional standards that officials hope will prevent rolling blackouts and price spikes like those experienced in 2001.
The standards are intended to guarantee adequate supplies of electricity even during seasons in which production is down.
"It is surprising that it's never officially been done before," said John Fazio, senior analyst with the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. "I mean, the concept of balancing your demands with your supply is an easy one to grasp."
The problem has been that energy supplies in the Pacific Northwest are notoriously hard to predict because so much of the production comes from hydroelectric dams, which are dependent on often widely varying seasonal rains and snowpack.
In a dry year, Fazio said, the region's hydroelectric facilities produce about 12,000 megawatts. In an average water year, that jumps to 16,000 megawatts. In a wet year, it can climb to 19,000 megawatts.
"That makes it very, very hard to plan," he said. "It throws a monkey wrench into the whole process."
To put some predictability into the system, Fazio said, the council and BPA, which markets federal hydropower in the region, put together a forum to craft a regionwide supply-and-demand standard.
Essentially, they created an equation into which they can plug expected supply, demand and a whole host of variables.
"The standard will raise a red flag to alert the region when we are at risk of running short of electricity," said Northwest Power and Conservation Council chairman Tom Karier. "If such a standard had been in place in the mid-1990s, we would have had time to avert the 2000-01 energy crisis."
"Now we finally have a regionwide standard," Fazio said. "If we cross this line, it's a signal that we need to take action."
The standard itself is only a warning, though. It does not mandate any particular action.
But it could be enough to grease the skids at public service commissions, he said, helping private and public utilities win approval for new power plant construction. And it could prod legislators into promoting electricity conservation, perhaps through tax breaks for industries willing to retool with energy-efficient equipment.
Currently, Fazio said, the region is fat with power, with supply exceeding demand just as it did during the low-cost days of the early 1990s. And so now is the perfect time to plan for the next shortage, he said, before it inevitably arrives.
The new trigger points, he said, will be incorporated into the "West-wide" standard, a broader review of supply and demand required by Congress in the nation's current energy bill.
"We've needed something like this for a long time," Fazio said. "We have to have a trigger that alerts us early enough, when there's still time to react."
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