For the first time since the recession hit in 2008, energy growth has been measured in Oregon, according to senior executives at Portland General Electric (PGE), who reported slightly reduced year/year earnings during a second quarter conference call with financial analysts last week. As a result, PGE’s latest plans call for increased natural gas-fired power generation — both peaking and baseload.

PGE reported net income for the second quarter of $22 million (29 cents/diluted share), compared with $24 million (32 cents) for the same period last year. Retail revenues were up by $4 million, or 1%, year/year, primarily due to increases in residential and commercial/industrial deliveries of 2% and 3% respectively.

Noting a seasonally adjusted decline in unemployment rates in the Oregon and Portland metropolitan areas, PGE CEO Jim Piro told analysts that the state’s economic recovery is slowly picking up steam. “Oregon’s payroll grew 2.7% annualized during the past six months, compared to 1.2% for the nation overall,” said Piro, noting that PGE realized increased deliveries across all customer segments in 2Q2011.

“Increases, however, were driven primarily by the industrial sector,” he said, predicting that weather-adjusted power deliveries for all of this year will be about 1.8% above levels in 2010. “When you exclude the load growth of two large paper mill customers, weather-adjusted retail energy deliveries in 2011 will be only about 1% above last year.

“It is important to keep in mind that a few of our largest customers are able to access the wholesale energy markets directly through PGE, so their production levels can vary widely, depending upon their market opportunities.”

CFO Maria Pope said PGE is seeing definite load growth for the first time in several years. She specifically cited a major expansion in Oregon by Intel Corp., along with suppliers for the global micro chip manufacturer. “They are growing very rapidly,” Pope said. “We’re also seeing construction growth now in the trades area of about 6.8% compared to a year ago. We have good confidence in our ability to be able to continue to grow over the next couple of years and prudently manage our rates.”

While noting that PGE recently completed upgrading one of its gas-fired generation units (Coyote Springs) to increase output by 12.1%, Piro outlined plans for two of three major requests for proposal (RFP) the utility will release during the next 12 months to obtain new gas-fired generation units. Beginning later this year, he said, PGE intends “to hold three separate competitive bidding processes to acquire new resources.” PGE is seeking about 200 MW of year-round peaking capacity: 150 MW of summer-winter peaking and 150 MW of winter-only peaking. The gas-fired units are expected to be online 2013-15, Piro said.

In addition to 150 MW of new renewables by 2015 in a second RFP, PGE will submit a third request for up to 300-500 MW of baseload, gas-fired generation in the 2015-17 time frame, Piro said. “This is baseload, high efficiency, natural gas-fired generation. In each of the RFPs, we plans to submit our own self-build options to compete with the market bids.” All three RFPs are expected to be completed by late next year or early 2013.

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