Energy Northwest: Balancing the new energy horizon

Mark Reddemann, CEOMarch 30, 2014 

The Columbia Generating Station, Energy Northwest’s flagship energy resource, is 10 miles north of Richland. The nuclear energy facility is generating more electricity than ever before while setting facility records and receiving numerous industry awards.

COURTESY ENERGY NORTHWEST

Thank you, Tri-Cities, for your overwhelming support of our Richland-based agency. While continuing to make substantial contributions in the community, our highly-skilled team set numerous safety and energy generation records last year that were recognized by external organizations.

Safety is always our No. 1 priority, and Energy Northwest was recently recognized for achieving a remarkable milestone: 10 million hours worked without a lost-time injury. We were also honored by the Association of Washington Business with an award for workplace safety, which comes at a time when Columbia Generating Station -- the agency's flagship energy resource -- is generating more electricity than ever before in the facility's operational history. We set generation records in each of the past two years.

Columbia's 1,170 megawatts of electricity is enough energy to power a city the size of Seattle. Last year, we set out to quantify the economic and environmental value of such clean energy generation. Independent and reputable studies concluded the continued operation of Columbia is not only the most cost-effective option for Northwest consumers -- to the sum of billions of dollars -- but also prevents 4.4 million metric tons of carbon from entering the atmosphere annually. That's something we're extremely proud of at Energy Northwest.

The near-term will keep us busy with moving spent fuel assemblies -- fuel that's already been used in the reactor -- from Columbia's reactor building to on-site dry-cask storage. Our strict adherence to standards during such projects has led us through two record-breaking years, and we anticipate continued similar successes. We have not had an unplanned shutdown in more than 31/2 years, and this month our team achieved another record: Columbia's longest operational run (250 days and counting) following a refueling and maintenance outage.

Our next outage will begin in May 2015. We'll shut down Columbia and once again hire an additional 1,300 to 1,500 workers for about 45 days. These temporary hires, aside from their contributions to the Tri-City economy, will help our regular team refuel the reactor core and perform facility-wide equipment maintenance. This biennial work allows us to continue to offer a reliable, affordable and environmentally responsible energy future for the region.

At Energy Northwest, we're pleased to see that our community's shared energy future is also of concern to our elected leaders in Olympia and Washington, D.C. State leaders are contemplating the challenge of efficiently managing generation resources in a changing energy landscape. That landscape is energy rich and capacity poor in the Northwest, which means we sometimes have more electricity available than needed, or struggle to meet demand when renewables -- such as wind and solar -- are not generating electricity.

To address these future needs, Energy Northwest is focusing on developing a "demand response" capability -- a commercial-scale resource that Bonneville Power Administration can use to balance the transmission grid. The idea calls for organizing electric customers throughout the Northwest who are willing and able to increase or decrease their loads when called upon.

Sustaining a diverse mix of energy resources for the long term will also require large-scale energy storage, so that clean energy from intermittent sources, like our state's vast wind resources, can be better integrated into the regional power grid. To help develop this technology, Energy Northwest is teaming with other local agencies to test and gauge the potential of battery storage technology.

The potential for new nuclear technologies is also bright. We're teaming with NuScale Power in Oregon to study a commercial demonstration of NuScale's small modular reactor design. NuScale plans to build the facility in southeastern Idaho, where power is needed to replace aging coal plants. Energy Northwest will have first right of offer to operate the facility, which will translate into an experienced work force when the time is right to bring such technology to our area.

To learn more about our nuclear, wind, hydro and solar power projects, go to our newest educational resource -- ColumbiaValue.com -- where you can become more knowledgeable about energy and our role in balancing the new energy horizon. Also visit our homepage -- energy-northwest.com -- to stay up-to-date on our newest projects.

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