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Northwest Heat Spikes Power Demand, Moving NatGas Needle

Record-setting heat in the Pacific Northwest early this month drove electricity demand to record levels throughout the region as quantified by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), boosting natural gas loads for at least one power generator but not necessarily region-wide.

Above-normal levels of hydroelectric supplies and other fuel sources helped some local suppliers satisfy the record-setting demand.

"Multiple record-breaking heat waves swept across the western United States, with the latest occurring in the Northwest (Aug. 1-4), and coinciding with the hot weather, some of the largest electricity balancing authorities in the area experienced record high summer electricity demand on their systems," according to EIA.

Portland, OR-based Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) encountered peak demand of more than 8,000 MW for three consecutive days, breaking its previous summer peak of 7,861 MW set in 2014. Most of the increased load was satisfied by hydro and nuclear sources, a BPA spokesman said.

However, Portland General Electric (PGE) pressed the pedal to the metal at their four utility gas-fired generation plants, which collectively represent 1,552 MW, a PGE spokesperson told NGI. Summer peak demand reached an all-time record for the utility at 3,976 MW on Aug. 3, when the temperature hit 105 degrees at Portland International Airport.

"Natural gas was an important resource for us during the heat storm in early August," said the spokesperson. Last year, gas-fired generation represented more than 27% of PGE's generation mix. "On Aug. 3 it was all hands on deck to deliver the all-time summer peak power, and we had all of our gas-fired plants going at full output during the day."

Even with the substantial gas use, PGE, like its counterparts in the region, has been awash in hydroelectric supplies, the spokesperson said. "In the water year that begins in October, this year we received a full year's supply of water in the first six months. It was abundant," he said. "Hydro has been a tremendous resource in the region. It helped everybody during the heat in early August."

For Berkshire Hathaway Energy's Portland-based PacifiCorp, the heat wave did not spell record demand, as many of their residential customers still don't have air conditioning loads, a spokesperson said.

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