Always an important factor in gauging summer energy supplies, particularly for power generation, Pacific Northwest river flows and water levels are getting increased scrutiny this month following an above-normally dry and warm January through March period.

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council (NPCC), which meets Tuesday and Wednesday in Spokane, WA, will examine new forecast data due to be released Monday, NPCC said.

NPCC’s analysis comes in the wake of the Northwest River Forecast Center predicting Thursday that river flows for the first seven months this year will be about 89% of normal, and the fact that they are that high is attributable to much higher-than-normal precipitation last fall.

Since the first of this year, except for two very recent storms in the far north of British Columbia, the Northwest has been relatively dry, according to NPCC and river center officials.

What this all means to this summer’s energy picture throughout the West, and the prospects for more reliance on natural gas-fired power generation, is still unknown. NPCC analysts may have some added thoughts when they release their forecast in the coming days.

NPCC’s latest long-term power plan calls for the region to meet 85% of its additional demand from energy efficiency while cutting in half its reliance on coal-fired generation. “Energy efficiency in the plan is responsible for reducing carbon emissions from regional generating plants by a total of 17 million tons/year by 2030,” the NPCC said.

Achieving all of the new efficiency could produce as many as 47,000 new jobs in the Northwest by 2030, according to calculations by the NPCC staff.

Since there is still the possibility of increased precipitation in the coming weeks and months, no one is predicting the unusually low hydroelectric supply levels experienced a few years ago during more severe drought conditions. It is the level of hydropower that ultimately will determine whether there will be any abnormally high or low levels of natural gas needed this summer for power generation during peak electric usage periods.

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