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Public power successfully responds to record-breaking demand in Northwest

From the August 10, 2017 issue of Public Power Daily

Originally published August 9, 2017

By Paul Ciampoli
News Director

The Bonneville Power Administration’s record for peak summertime electricity consumption was recently broken three days in a row after intense heat blanketed the Pacific Northwest. But thanks to several steps BPA took in concert with federal partners, the nonprofit federal power marketing administration successfully met the challenge. Energy Northwest’s Columbia Generating Station nuclear plant also played a key role in helping to meet the surge in power demand.

Several days of intense heat recently pushed temperatures in the Pacific Northwest above the 100-degree mark, sending regional summertime power consumption to record highs, BPA reported on Aug. 4. 

BPA said that its record for peak summertime electricity consumption was broken three days in a row.

 BPA customer power usage broke the 2014 peak of 7,861 megawatts on Aug. 1, 2 and 3, with Aug. 2 being the highest. BPA’s customers consumed 8,048 MW on Aug. 1, 8,226 MW on Aug. 2 and 8,208 MW on Aug. 3, it said. 

“BPA, in concert with its federal partners, prepared for the heat wave by safely delaying routine-maintenance activities, ensuring the turbines in federal dams were optimized for power generation and working closely with the Columbia Generating Station, a nuclear plant that generates up to 1,200 MW of clean, reliable power,” it noted in a news release.

Energy Northwest nuclear plant plays key role

During the week of July 31-Aug. 4, BPA made a “no touch” request to Energy Northwest related to the operation of Energy Northwest’s Columbia Generating Station nuclear plant in Washington state. With loads typically higher during the work week, BPA asked Energy Northwest to avoid any activities that would result in the nuclear plant operating at less than 100 percent.

Mike Paoli, chief communications officer at Energy Northwest, noted that Energy Northwest schedules refueling outages for the nuclear plant in the spring, when snowmelt and river flows are high, “so we can be online later in summer when water levels are lower and temperatures peak. That allows us to be on hand to help carry the electric burden when we have weeks like this past one in which BPA had three days of record load,” Paoli noted in an email.

While BPA has about 5,000 megawatts of wind capacity on its system, wind generation was near zero during those three record days, he said. “That’s why fuel diversity is so important to this region and the country,” Paoli said.

The Columbia Generating Station in June re-connected to the Northwest power grid following its 23rd refueling and maintenance outage. The outage, originally scheduled for 40 days, ended two and a half days early with a significant amount of work completed that will improve efficiency and output for the next two-year cycle. In fact, Columbia just completed its best July ever, producing more than 855,000 megawatt-hours of electricity.

The Columbia Generating Station is delivering an additional 25 megawatts electric to the grid based on work completed during the 23rd refueling and maintenance outage. The increase is a combination of restoring lost efficiencies and implementing a recent Nuclear Regulatory Commission approval for a power increase.

The megawatts gained during the most recent refueling and maintenance outage equates to about 203 million extra kilowatt-hours a year, said Alex Javorik, vice president for engineering at Energy Northwest.

Paoli noted that the Columbia Generating Station is emblematic of the entire nuclear fleet in terms of its value during both normal and adverse weather.

He pointed out that all of the nuclear plant’s power is provided at cost to the region and that cost has been declining steadily since 2008, from about $50 per MWh to under $44 per MWh (based on two-year averages that include a biennial refueling outage).

“Combined with the significant hydro provided by public power utilities, the Pacific Northwest sits in a comfortable cost position,” Paoli said.

Paoli said that “this isn’t just a local good news story, at least not from a regular weather cycle perspective. Anytime we have heat or cold spikes in the country, nuclear provides reliability and cost stability that otherwise wouldn’t exist.” He pointed to several examples of how nuclear power has played a key role in maintaining power supplies during extreme weather events in recent years including the 2016 Polar Vortex in the Northeast.

Energy Northwest is a Washington state-based joint action agency that is comprised of 27 public power member utilities from across the state serving more than 1.5 million ratepayers.

BPA transmission crews were ready to quickly address outages

BPA transmission crews stood ready to quickly address outages and kept in constant contact with firefighters as wildland fires across the region threatened transmission lines, BPA said, noting that problems on BPA’s transmission system had been kept to a minimum.

BPA, which is headquartered in Portland, Ore., is a nonprofit federal power marketer that sells wholesale electricity to 142 Northwest electric utilities, serving millions of consumers and businesses in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, western Montana and parts of California, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming. BPA delivers power via more than 15,000 circuit miles of lines and 260 substations to 511 transmission customers.

Seattle City Light

Meanwhile, while temperatures were above 90 degrees in Seattle, Wash., last week, energy use did not reach Seattle City Light’s summer high record, which was set July 29, 2009, when the temperature hit 103 degrees, noted Seattle City Light spokesman Scott Thomsen.

He said that energy use hit 1,360 MW at the peak last week. Seattle City Light’s summer record is 1,479 MW and its all-time high for energy use is 2,050 MW, which occurred in the winter of 1990.

Thomsen pointed out that Seattle City Light is a winter peaking utility. The utility’s customers use much more electricity in the winter than the summer because more of them use electricity for heating than have air conditioning. “Our most recent residential housing survey showed about 15 percent of our customers have central air,” he noted in an email.


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