Gas demand for power generation is expected to rise this spring and summer throughout the West because of lower-than-normal water levels. Earlier in March, California state officials placed snowpack levels at 20% of normal, and the state’s three-year drought has been extended to four years.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service has characterized the snowpack levels in California, Oregon and Washington as being at historic low levels. In other western states, such as Nevada, Utah and Idaho, they are dropping further below normal. This has implications for energy supplies, but also agricultural and forestry issues throughout the region.
Although the Pacific Northwest water levels are 80-90% of normal in the areas critical to hydroelectric power production, officials at the Northwest Power and Conservation Council (NWPCC) are predicting increased gas-fired generation, but they just haven't quantified it yet, a Portland, OR-based spokesperson told NGI on Thursday.
"The question about water levels and gas is spot on," the NWPCC spokesperson said. "There is definitely a one-to-one relationship between the two."
Data analytics firm Genscape has quantified the prospects for greater natural gas use because of the reduced water levels, projecting gas-fired power generation demand at the 5.3 Bcf/d level throughout the Western Electricity Coordinating Council (WECC). Its calculation used the current Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) forecast for hydropower production to be slightly below the 55-year median level.
Genscape reviewed past WECC data on gas burn for power in years when hydro was high, average and low in coming up with its projections for this spring/summer's likely gas demand across the western power grid.
At the California Energy Commission (CEC), which helps the state policymaker push for more renewable-based power, officials cautioned that it is too early to forecast gas demand for power.
“We anticipate there will be enough energy to provide the power needs of this spring and summer," Rob Oglesby, CEC executive director, told NGI. "Hydroelectricity typically makes up 14-19% of the state's electricity needs. Renewable energy sources are increasingly filling the gap created by the loss of hydro generation. In 2014, renewable energy sources provided 25% of the electricity utilities deliver to homes and businesses."
NWPCC officials said the Upper Basin in the Pacific Northwest, which includes parts of British Columbia in Canada, along with northern Idaho, western Montana and parts of Washington, has near-normal water levels, and that is the region that is most critical to hydroelectric power. In the areas east of the Cascades in Washington, Oregon and southern Idaho, the water levels are far worse, but that region does not produce much hydropower.
The Northwest River Forecast Center (NWRFC) water supply map shows the dryness east of the Cascades in Washington and Oregon. In a March 5 presentation, NWRFC placed the hydro-producing Upper Columbia River and Upper Snake River basins at "near normal" and "below normal," respectively. The rest of the monitored basins were characterized as below or "well below" normal.