Thursday, March 03, 2005

washington snowpack, california energy

A few weeks ago I tossed out that snowpacks are running low this year for the Pacific Northwest. Since then, we've had but a drizzle of rain, and we are heading into another patch of sunshine. Low snowpack means the regional dams produce less electricity than normal, meaning there is little excess power to sell on the open market after Washington State is serviced.

Cascadia Scorecard just brought me up to date.

The previous low on the graph is the year of the infamous "rolling blackouts" in California, as well as the Enron debacle. Now, there is no doubt that a significant portion of California's woes that year were due to market manipulation. But, consider that reduced energy from the Northwest provided fertile grounds for this manipulation to take place. A natural gas shortage, or an oil shortage, on top low dam production would have the exact same effect or worse.

This is a local story for me, but based on the news about the weather this year, I expect others have similar tales to tell. Climate change is rocking our boat right as we are cresting the peak of the energy that caused it.


At 6:54 PM, March 05, 2005, Blogger UNplanner said...

I have been watching these numbers myself here in California with some concern. Earlier this month I got a look at the CA-ISO's Jan 2005 forecast numbers for summer electrical supplies for the 75% of the state that it controls. They are already short, by a small margin. According to the forecast, if we have a one in two summer, we are set for stage one or two territory (no blackouts) and if we have a one in ten (hot) summer the grid will be 2% short on juice. I have called them repeatedly to ask if that includes a smaller than average snow pack or not. They have not been returning my phone calls (and that's calling as a government employee). So at this point I am a little dark on the true status.

Getting info on energy has been difficult. My work as a resource planner has had me contacting various energy companies and commissions for more detailed information, which I am using in our county's general plan update.

The process has proven quite an educational experience. I will be blogging at least two posts on this subject, one on Monday on the lack of cooperation on supplying information and the other at some point when I do finally get the info I am looking for.

By the way, thanks for providing a link to my blog.


At 1:11 AM, March 06, 2005, Blogger monkeygrinder said...

I appreciate your insights.

Scuttlebutt is that Washington State will officially declare a drought in a week or two. If we get finished with March without significant rainfall, it is almost game over.

Right now, we are looking at the worst water drought in terms of snowpack since 1976. I'm not sure if any useful comparisons can be drawn as far as the grid is concerned, but you might check out what happened historically.

I know someone at a local power company, so I may be able to squeeze some info out of him.

At 5:11 PM, March 07, 2005, Blogger UNplanner said...

Well the ISO finally got back to me. I am now on their contact list for updates. The word from them (fairly high up in the agency, too) is that this year's 2005 power estimates do NOT include reduced energy availability from the Pacific Northwest. They are watching this situation closely and will make a formal revision April 1.

I asked how the ISO felt about about the summer electrical supply being sufficient to meet the anticipated peak load. He stated that they were "concerned" it wouldn't. Right now this is a sleeper issue in California.

It may not be for long.

It's still early and things could change but: demand is up, hydro supplies are down, planned for power plants have not materialized, and natural gas prices are up.

Better hope for a cool summer.


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