Monthly Archives: February 2012

U.S. Supreme Court unanimously opposes Montana state decision

 By Review

WASHINGTON, D.C. (PennWell) — The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously overturned a Montana state Supreme Court decision that would have required energy provider PPL Montana to pay US$41 million in back rent for the use of riverbeds under portions of three Montana rivers.

PPL Montana acquired private riparian lands for 10 facilities along the Missouri, Madison and Clark Fork rivers and pays rent to the U.S. for the use of adjoining federal lands. Read more

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Snowpack shoots up

By K.C. Mehaffey
The Wenatchee World

WENATCHEE — Several January storms that dumped snow in the mountains above North Central Washington helped bring the region back to a near-average snowpack, after a December with only half of the snowpack of a normal year.

But another string of clear, dry days could bring us right back to a poor snow year, says Scott Pattee, water supply specialist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“This time of year, every day we don’t see mountain accumulations, we drop in percentage,” he said. “Right now, we should be collecting more snow, but instead we’re losing it. And the forecast isn’t looking any better.” Read more

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BPA proposes resolution to electricity oversupply

By BPA News Release

Portland, Ore. – The Bonneville Power Administration today proposed compensating wind energy producers within its section of the grid for periodically reducing their output when necessary to keep the electricity supply from exceeding demand during high river flows.

If BPA decides to proceed with the compensation proposal, the agency will also propose in a rate case to split the cost of the compensation approximately equally between users of BPA’s Federal Base System and wind energy producers in its grid.

The proposal comes after months of discussions with key stakeholders to find an equitable solution to oversupply. The proposal is based on concepts developed in these discussions.

Although the discussions are ongoing, BPA is releasing its proposal for public review now so the agency can meet a March 6 deadline for filing the proposal with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The terms of the proposal would run through 2015. The proposal is open for public comment until noon on Feb. 21.

The proposal would address the risk of a possible oversupply of energy when hydroelectric power produced by high runoff of water combines with wind generation in low-demand periods such as late at night. Electricity supply must constantly match demand to maintain the reliability of the electric grid.

“This is an important step toward resolving a Northwest issue in a way that works for the Northwest,” said BPA Administrator Steve Wright. “We’re focused on seeking solutions based on regional input that maintain reliability, protect fish and support renewable energy while equitably sharing costs.”

The risk of electricity oversupply depends on runoff conditions and BPA expects reductions in wind generation will be unnecessary in about one of every three years. Reducing hydroelectric generation during high flows sends more water through dam spillways, increasing dissolved gas levels that can harm fish. To control gas levels, BPA maximizes hydroelectric generation in such circumstances and offers the output at low cost or for free to coal, natural gas and other thermal power plants, as well as to wind generators. Thermal plants then typically shut down and save fuel costs.

However, most wind energy producers continue operating because their revenue from production tax credits, renewable energy credits and contracts depends on continued wind generation.

Under the new proposal, BPA would first work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation to manage federal hydroelectric generation and spill water up to dissolved gas limits. BPA would then offer low-cost or free hydropower to replace the output of thermal and other power plants, with the expectation that many would voluntarily reduce their generation to save fuel costs. If electricity supply still exceeds demand, BPA would then reduce the output of remaining generation within its system, including wind energy, in order of least cost. BPA would compensate the affected generation for lost revenues, including renewable energy credits and production tax credits, subject to audit.

On average BPA expects to compensate wind producers about $12 million per year for lost revenues related to reduced electricity generation, although the total could range from nothing to more than $50 million in extreme conditions.

The Northwest River Forecast Center’s runoff projection for January to July 2012 is currently 85 percent of average. Lower runoff reduces the likelihood of an oversupply of electricity this spring, but conditions can change rapidly.

Under the proposal, BPA would cover costs of curtailing wind generation this spring from its transmission reserve account until a rate can be established to recover the costs. The agency would initiate a new rate case in which it would propose dividing compensation costs roughly equally between users of BPA’s Federal Base System and wind energy operators within BPA’s system.

For more information, go to

BPA is a non-profit federal agency that markets renewable hydropower from federal Columbia River dams, operates three-quarters of high-voltage transmission lines in the Northwest and funds one of the largest wildlife protection and restoration programs in the world. BPA and its partners have also saved enough electricity through energy efficiency projects to power four large American cities. For more information, contact us at 503-230-5131 or visit our website at

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Poor snowpack could shrink NW hydropower

By Ted Sickinger
The Oregonian

A thin snowpack and predictions of low runoff this summer have the Bonneville Power Administration forecasting a financial loss for the year, and Northwest water watchers hoping for more snowy weather before the winter’s through.
In a forecast issued Friday, the National Weather Service’s Northwest River Forecast Center predicted that water flows past The Dalles Dam will be 79.2 million acre feet between January and July. That would be 74 percent of the 30-year average for the period — 107.3 million acre feet — and the eighth lowest flow in the past 40 years.
Anxiety levels remain fairly low. February and March can still be big snow months in the Columbia River Basin, filling the region’s virtual reservoir. But the numbers have gotten progressively worse since the early bird forecast in December. As winter pushes on and the big snows fail to fly, the predictions begin to harden into reality. Read more

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Ice Harbor Dam repairs under way after oil leaks into Snake River

By Annette Cary
Tri-City Herald

Army Corps officials have identified the source of leaks in Ice Harbor Dam equipment after an oily sheen was seen on water below the Snake River dam.

As much as 1,680 gallons of transformer oil contaminated with small amounts of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, are estimated to have leaked slowly from three of six cooling units at Ice Harbor, according to the Corps.
Pinhole leaks apparently developed in metal tubing in the cooling units and grew over several months, it said.
Based on oil inventory records, the Corps believes the leaks started after June. Read more


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Ridgefield firm gets hydropower boost

By Gordon Oliver
The Columbian

While others have turned to wind, waves and sun rays for new sources of power, Hydrovolts is going with the flow of hydropower.

The Seattle-based startup sees vast potential for power and profits in the irrigation channels that carry water in much of the world. The company has designed a small-scale turbine that can generate electricity from slow-moving waterways, and it’s about to build prototypes at a small manufacturing plant in Ridgefield.

“Technology and need have coincided to provide new opportunities for hydro,” said Eli Lamb, Hydrovolts’ Portland-based managing director, at a recent Southwest Washington PubTalk presentation. Read more

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