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NW Fishletter #328 February 20, 2014

[3] BPA Says Oregon's Spill Proposal Is Over The Top

BPA sent a preliminary analysis of Oregon's spill proposal to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council that says such an action would reduce power production by about 600 aMW a year, or about half the annual output of the Columbia Generating Station, the region's lone nuke plant.

"It would take more than six typical 400-MW combined-cycle gas plants to produce the amount of energy removed from the system in the spring," said the BPA review.

The state of Oregon, the Nez Perce Tribe and some environmental groups have pushed the spill proposal as a new amendment to the region's fish and wildlife program, which is undergoing its five-year update by the Council. Supporters say the 10-year "test" could increase adult returns to recovery levels, reaching smolt-to-adult returns (SARs) in the 4-percent range.

Supporters point to a controversial analysis by some state, tribal and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scientists involved in the Comparative Survival Study (CSS) process. That analysis concluded fish returns would improve significantly if spring spill levels at federal dams in the lower Snake and Columbia rivers were allowed to rise enough for total dissolved gas levels to reach 125 percent in dam tailraces. Current levels are capped at 120 percent.

BPA sent the preliminary analysis to the Council on Feb. 4, but rumors have been circulating for weeks that it would put the expected cost of the spill in the $110-million annual range, a number that turns out to have been right on the money. In its official statement, BPA said the region would lose $100 million in lost firm power (450 aMW a year) and $10 million in lost secondary power every year of the proposed 10-year spill test.

"Oregon's spill proposal increases rates since it both reduces secondary energy sales revenue that offsets BPA's operating costs and decreases the number of megawatt hours BPA has to sell--which means BPA's cost per megawatt is higher," said the analysis. "In addition, customers will have to replace the 450 annual aMW of lost firm power they can no longer get from the federal system."

BPA estimated the proposal would raise wholesale rates by nearly 8 percent.

Also, according to figures from a 2008 NPCC study, it would also increase CO2 production by nearly 2 million metric tons a year, at a social cost of $55 million annually, BPA said.

The analysis noted that for most of the year, natural gas power plants are the last resource brought on line to supply power instantaneously and to respond to decreases in power production. BPA said the CO2 increase was equivalent to about 440,000 cars or 28,000 tanker trucks of gasoline consumed.

Additionally, the analysis said the proposed spill test would significantly reduce the flexibility of the hydro system to respond to changes in loads or wind output. It noted that new resources "likely would be needed to provide balancing services for both existing and future variable renewable resources which would likely increase the cost to provide these resources."

But BPA said the potential reduction of hydropower for the 11-week period every spring might also reduce the likelihood of implementing the oversupply management protocol, but noted that the agency forecasts oversupply situations in only about 50 percent of all years.

That could lead to another problem, however, since thermal plants that normally shut down in the spring may have to keep running to meet loads. "This change may contribute to oversupply because of minimum generation and run-time requirements at the thermal plants," with potential impacts to transmission interties that could reduce access to markets outside BPA's balancing authority, the analysis stated.

More spring spill would also likely increase congestion on the North of John Day and North of Hanford transmission paths, which would be a "significant change from the current operating paradigm and may cause operating issues that we do not currently face."

Two groups that support the spill proposal, Save Our Wild Salmon and the NW Energy Coalition, sent a letter on Feb. 4 to the Council suggesting ways to make up for the lost power other than using natural gas turbines, which would generate 1.9 million tons of carbon in a worst-case scenario. They noted that in 2009, the system averaged 57 million tons of CO2 emissions.

The groups suggested that energy efficiency could help ease any power shortage, along with more wind power and solar from down south. "California's solar resource continues to grow at a dramatic pace, and could provide additional clean and inexpensive power during the spring period when mid-day demand is generally low in California."

The letter said playing salmon recovery against clean energy was a "false choice" that harms both objectives, but it didn't mention serious questions that both National Marine Fisheries Service and Action Agencies have raised about the scientific merits of the proposal. The agencies raised these issues again last month before the panel of independent scientists tasked by the Council to review the spill test.

"Citizens should be furious this is even being considered," said Scott Corwin, executive director of the Public Power Council. "A billion dollars in cost, an 8-percent rate increase, more carbon emissions from replacing lost hydropower, and all for an experiment that may not help and could even harm fish. This is surreal. It sure looks like a dangerous experiment for our economy and our environment."

The science panel is expected to have its recommendation ready by Feb. 21, Independent Scientific Advisory Board member Greg Ruggerone told the Council's F&W committee on Feb. 11. -B. R.

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