Improving energy efficiency use and the addition of gas-fired power plants is keeping up with the retirement of dirty coal plants in the Pacific Northwest, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council reports.
Idaho Power Co is expected to release its own coal study next month where it will decide whether it will ask the Idaho Public Utilities Commission if it can spend hundreds of millions of dollars to keep its share of coal plants operating in Wyoming and Nevada. Already the coal plant in Boardman, Ore. that it owns a share of with Portland General Electric is scheduled to shut down in 2020.
Add two coal plants in Centralia, Wash. and the Pacific Northwest is expected to cut coal power by an amount equal to about twice the power demand of Seattle.
The power council analysis, which assessed regional power supply adequacy five years into the future, showed that the power system would remain adequate through 2017 as long as the electricity supply increases by an amount equal to the output of a medium-size, natural gas-fired power plant, or by an equivalent amount of improved energy efficiency. It also said there was more than enough to cover the output of the coal plants.
“Of course, the future is uncertain and plans can change, as can demand for electricity,” Council Chair Bill Bradbury said. “But based on the best information we have at the moment, the risk of power outages caused by inadequate supply is acceptably low as long as current plans are fulfilled.”
Idaho Power’s coal study, called the Environmental Compliance Cost Study, will be filed with the Idaho and Oregon Public Utility Commissions in mid-February as part of the investor-owned utility’s update to the 2011 Integrated Resource Plan.
Idaho Power is forecasting reduced load growth rates over the next few years just like the Pacific Northwest.
“This will take some of the pressure off if some coal plants are retired,” said Mark Stokes, Idaho Power’s power supply planning manager.
The critical issue for Idaho Power’s coal plants is what pollution rules the Environmental Protection Agency will require. Right now there is a lot of uncertainty but given President Barack Obama’s strong message he intends to fight climate change in his inaugural address those costs may come in highers than lower.
“For now, we believe the key is to remain flexible; that will allow us to respond to future requirements if or when they’re implemented,” Stokes said.