Northwest Utilities Tackling Power System Complexities in PNUCC’s 2013 NW Regional Forecast

Portland, Ore. — PNUCC’s 2013 Northwest Regional Forecast, released this week, provides a look at the Pacific Northwest’s electric power landscape for the next decade, compiling utility information on loads and resources to frame our energy future picture.  It is one of growing complexity as utilities fine-tune how to ensure there’s enough power for everyone during the highest energy use periods with a growing intermittent power supply.

A notable change from last year’s forecast is that overall loads are down and predicted to remain lower than previously foreseen.  Utilities are predicting firm energy demand in 2014 to be down about 700 average megawatts from what they thought a year ago.  The forecasts for the summer and winter peak are also down a similar proportion.  Although these loads are lower, utilities predict a continued steady rise in demand over the next decade.

As in last year’s Forecast, utilities are paying closer attention to peak demand and how to plan for these spikes in usage, typically in winter with its heavier heating and lighting loads.  In fact, the report indicates a need for additional supply to meet winter peak demand in the first year of the report.  Summer peak needs are not quite as urgent, with resources sufficient until 2017, but still must be addressed.

Adding to the decades of success of energy-efficiency programs, utilities are implementing new demand-side initiatives, shaving load in peak periods by engaging customers in programs such as demand response.  The region will also need new generating resources to assure power system reliability.  Utilities are investing in flexible generation options to balance the variable nature of resources like wind and solar.

Newly acquired generating resources and plans for future acquisitions are revealing a complex strategy for dealing with short-term load reductions and longer-term projected needs, particularly in peak seasons.  While hydropower is still the backbone of the region’s power system, the trend toward supplementing with natural gas-fired generation will continue in combination with contract purchases to help bridge seasonal gaps.  Other renewable options besides wind, including hydro-efficiency improvements, biomass, geothermal and solar are more prominent in utilities’ plans.

Read the full report at www.pnucc.org/system-planning/northwest-regional-forecast.