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Economic and dam related articles

BPA Expecting Normal
Water Year Operations

by Staff
BPA Journal, May 2016

Surplus power sales are used to keep BPA rates lower than they would have been otherwise.

The Bonneville Power Administration is looking at a normal water year after implementing dry-year operations in 2015. Record-setting precipitation in December and a wet March have helped boost this year's water supply forecast.

The April 19 water supply forecast for January through July is 105.7 million acre-feet, or 104 percent of normal. The report is produced by the Northwest River Forecast Center, based on water volume measured at The Dalles Dam.

"One major difference we see this year is a more normal and evenly distributed snowpack in the Columbia Basin compared to last year," said Erik Pytlak, manager of the Weather and Streamflow Forecasting group in BPA Power Services. "Snowpack is what feeds the system's spring and summer runoff, so it's important to BPA to have good snowpack by this time of year."

With the approaching runoff, there's a chance BPA might need to use its oversupply management protocol this year should oversupply conditions arise. This protocol was last used in 2012. Oversupply occurs when a rare combination of factors comes together: low energy demand; an abundance of water; high hydroelectric generation; and operational limitations on the amount of water that can be spilled, or passed through the dams without generating power, to protect fish.

The oversupply protocol can be triggered any time of year, but is most likely during spring runoff, even in an average water year. BPA recently received approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to use the OMP indefinitely, although BPA must still file the rate with FERC every two years. The protocol places the associated costs largely on the participating customers.

The El Nino weather pattern that the region has been experiencing since March 2015 is finally weakening, but because it was so strong, the region can expect the effects to linger for a few more months.

"El Nino events typically tilt toward warmer and drier conditions in the Pacific Northwest," said Pytlak. "However, strong events like we had this past winter can bring significant precipitation to the region and result in a healthy snowpack. That has indeed played out so far this year."

It has also been a rather warm winter, not only in the Pacific Northwest but across the United States. The warmer weather has been linked to lower demand for natural gas and this year's decline in natural gas prices. These lower prices have driven down the price of BPA's surplus power in the electricity market. That has reduced BPA's surplus power sales outlook this year. Surplus power sales are used to keep BPA rates lower than they would have been otherwise.

On the bright side, the amount of water in Columbia River Treaty storage dams, including those in Canada, is recovering from the additional water releases made last spring and summer to offset low streamflow conditions.

"Using current forecasts, there is a good chance of refilling the composite Canadian Treaty content to near normal levels by the end of the operating year, which was much lower than normal last year due to the dry conditions in the U.S.," said Trevor Downen, Canadian Treaty operations lead in Power Services' Operations Planning group.

BPA Expecting Normal Water Year Operations
BPA Journal, May 2016

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