This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

February 12, 2003

Dry Winter Likely to Impact Hydropower in the Pacific Northwest

A continuing lack of water in the Pacific Northwest is likely to limit the supply of electricity from hydropower this spring, creating power supply challenges for the region. According to the Northwest Power Planning Council (NPPC), the forecast runoff for the Columbia River from January through July is about 73 percent of normal, the ninth-lowest runoff rate since 1929. Despite the low runoff, the NPPC anticipates only a 1 percent probability of power shortages in the region. See the NPPC press release.

Although the lights will probably stay on, the low water supplies are likely to cause higher power rates. The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) announced on February 7th that poor water conditions are likely to cause a 15 percent increase in wholesale power rates. BPA will begin a rate-setting process immediately, although the rate hike is not expected to take effect until October. According to BPA Administrator Steve Wright, "We could be heading into the worst three-year water condition on record." See the BPA press release.

BPA has been struggling with financial difficulties for months, and one result is a cutback on spending for renewable energy and energy efficiency. In a November letter to BPA constituents, Steve Wright proposed to reduce spending on these programs, specifically saying that BPA would focus on buying renewable energy from others rather than acquiring BPA-owned renewable energy facilities. Mr. Wright reaffirmed the need for such actions in a follow-up letter released last week. See the BPA "Financial Choices" Web page.

Just how bad is the water supply situation? See for yourself by viewing the "2003 Water Supply Outlook for the Western United States," provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The report provides graphic depictions of current reservoir storage conditions and mountain snow pack as well as forecasted spring and summer stream flows. Note that the color legends for stream flows and snow pack have changed, making it more difficult to compare this year's maps with last year's maps.