Powering Strong Communities

Public Power Council Details How Hydropower Played Key Reliability Role With Extreme Cold

Hydropower has played a key role in helping to bolster the Pacific Northwest’s power grid this month as wind, snow, ice, freezing rain, and record-breaking temperatures have gripped the region, the Public Power Council reported on Jan. 19.

A series of storm systems that brought record cold and all types of winter weather descended on Northwest communities January 9 “and still firmly holds its icy grip on many communities more than a week later,” the PPC noted.

“While hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses were experiencing weather-driven power outages across the region at one point or another, those homes and businesses that did have the power flowing to them were largely supported by the region’s fleet of renewable hydroelectric projects, several sources of data show,” the PPC said.

“Yet again, Northwest hydropower projects dependably carried a majority of the region’s electricity demands through these cold weather extremes, and continued to do so as the region’s demands eclipsed peak records of utilities in many parts of the region,” said Scot Simms, CEO & Executive Director of the PPC.

“Over the past few days, federal and non-federal hydropower made up about 70 percent of the electricity being consumed across the Northwest,” he said.

PPC’s staff experts determined federal Lower Snake River Dams reliably produced 1,000 megawatts or more of electricity on average during the highest electric demand hours throughout the past week of cold weather events, the PPC said on Jan. 19.

These dams, in conjunction with the other federally-operated Columbia River Basin hydro units, together produced more than 10,000 total MW of output, “yet again serving as the backbone of the Pacific Northwest electricity supply,” the PPC said.

Meanwhile, the region’s sole nuclear power plant and part of the BPA’s power supply portfolio – Energy Northwest’s Columbia Generating Station – also was reliably producing 1,165 MW of electricity for the duration of the cold period.

As the cold enveloped the region, a few challenges also emerged, the PPC noted.

First, a major natural gas storage facility in Washington experienced equipment failures, which in turn threatened supplies to Northwest natural gas-fired power plants and raised questions about their ability to fully operate for a period during the storms.

Second, the region’s wind power facilities “were not especially helpful for the week.”

While wind showed up with 1,000 MW of production on January 13, these wind power projects tapered off to nearly zero production for the remainder of the week.

“Utilities across the region and the country are increasingly being tested by weather extremes of all types in both winter and summer months, all the while consumers are using more electricity than ever before,” Simms said. “Here in the Northwest, this recent, long-duration cold weather event is yet another strong reminder of just how essential our hydropower resources are.”

The PPC, established in 1966, is an association that represents over 100 consumer-owned electric utilities in the Pacific Northwest.

PPC’s mission is to preserve and protect the benefits of the Federal Columbia River Power System for consumer-owned utilities, and is a forum to identify, discuss and build consensus around energy and utility issues.

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