BPA must diversify sources beyond dams

The Bonneville Power Administration was created by an act of congress in 1937 to market power from hydroelectric projects that have been a pillar of our region’s economy. Projects range from Grand Coulee Dam, the largest hydropower producer in the U.S.A., with median generation of 2,330 average megawatts to Ice Harbor Dam producing 198 MW. The water storage capacity of the reservoir created by a dam provides the ability to accommodate fluctuating power needs. Grand Coulee again leads with 11.8 billion cubic meters of storage. Ice Harbor is in a category of dam known as “run of the river” which means it has minimal storage and is dependent on whatever the river is flowing for its power generation.

Though different in nature, both of these hydroelectric projects are influenced by weather and climate change. The Feb. 13 issue of BPA News reported that due to dry winter conditions in the Pacific Northwest, the BPA forecasts negative net revenue of $109 million. Unable to produce enough electricity from its own hydroelectric projects BPA was forced to buy power from other sources.

Northwest snowpacks provide another critical storage for hydropower distributing runoff and power generation into our dryer months. With climate change, though, glaciers are retreating and snowpacks are melting earlier. Hydropower is diminished as air conditioning increases during our warming summers.

New technologies are in development for energy storage and, as in the case of the Yakama Nation’s proposed dry mechanical storage, existing technologies can be scaled to address evolving energy needs. With its hardened attachment to hydropower BPA is hindering a reliable and resilient energy future. Contact John Hairston, BPA’s CEO, and Jennifer Granholm, U.S. Secretary of Energy, and let them know it is time for BPA to diversify our region’s power.

Don J. Miller


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