Bob Pierce answers questions about energy efficiency, consumer products, and cooperative governance. He is Clearwater Power’s Chief Operating Officer and welcomes your questions on our Ask Bob page.
Q: If the Lower Snake River Dams (LSRD) were breached, couldn’t we just replace the power output with additional wind and solar generation?
A: Unfortunately, it is not quite as simple as that. One of the most difficult issues to overcome is one of ‘peak capacity’ of the power grid to avoid rolling black outs like Texas experienced last winter. For example, CPC has a winter peak demand that is more than double our summer peak. This winter peak demand always occurs during a cold snap when temperatures significantly drop, and the wind is typically still. Because of short days, increased clouds and the low angle of the winter sun, solar power produces only about 31% of the energy in December as it does in July at this latitude. For these reasons, a vast amount of solar and wind would be required to meet the peak needs of a utility like CPC.
This conclusion was confirmed in a recent BPA commissioned analysis. The scenario, utilizing non-emitting mature technologies and not allowing any additional combustion generating assets to come online costs $75 billion and would result in up to a 65% rate increase.
Oregon and Washington are required to meet state emissions laws and abide by laws restricting coal and natural gas generation. Without new commercially viable technologies, BPA would be forced into the highest cost option of replacing the hydropower with solar and wind.
This answer doesn’t address the myriad of other reasons CPC believes that the LSRD should not be breached but the carbon-free power output is definitely a significant part of the puzzle.