Power demand is expected to surge in the Northwest over the next few days as the temperature surpasses 100 degrees, and a new tool from the Bonneville Power Administration will let consumers track it.
BPA expects no problems with supplying electricity during the heat wave, in part because of late spring rains that helped fill the region's reservoirs. Power produced at the Northwest's dams supplies the bulk of the region's electricity.
The 1,150-megawatt Columbia Generating Station outside Richland also is producing its full output of nuclear power, further bolstering the regional power supply, said Michael Milstein, spokesman for BPA. The plant supplies about 10 percent of the BPA system's power, he said.
"It looks like we're in good shape," Milstein said. "The timeline when we become concerned about is when all the West Coast -- down into California -- experiences a hot spell. This hot spell seems focused in the Northwest.
"There seems to be plenty of power to go around, and demand seems to be subdued because of the economy, so we are not seeing the pressure we saw" in some years, he said.
And now, consumers can click onto a new feature on BPA's website to track electrical generation and demand in BPA's section of the Northwest power grid.
A real-time power generation and use display graph on the site -- http://go.usa.gov/ODD -- shows how much power is generated from hydro, wind and thermal sources as well as demand in the portion of the grid BPA manages, said Bart McManus, an engineer and site content manager.
Thermal sources include nuclear, coal, gas and co-generation facilities. Each is color-coded on the graph -- green for hydro, red for demand, blue for wind and brown for thermal -- and updated every five minutes to give viewers an insider's view of what's happening within the grid, McManus said.
For instance, electricity generated from the region's dams reached 12,000 megawatts -- one megawatt is enough to supply power to 1,000 homes -- by late afternoon Thursday. In comparison, power consumption, or load, was nearly 7,000 megawatts.
Thermal power sources generated another 5,000 megawatts, while wind almost was negligible during the same time frame as a high pressure system settled over the area and winds died. In contrast, wind generated more than 2,500 megawatts on July 5.
"It really shows the large role renewable power provides in the Northwest and how the patterns (of load and supply) are each day," Milstein said, noting demand typically drops at night and surges again during the day in summer.
BPA had used the graph on the web page to chart wind generation, but decided to expand it to hydro and thermal and include load data several weeks ago. Persistent rainfall and runoff filled the region's reservoirs then, creating a situation where too much power was generated.
Since the new features were added, McManus said e-mails and comments he's received indicate the web page -- called BPA Balancing Authority Load and Total wind, Hydro and Thermal Generation, Near Real Time -- is helping educate consumers about power generation and consumption.
"People can see where (their) power is coming from, and the loads," McManus said. "The more data that's out there, the better."
-- Kevin McCullen: 582-1535; email@example.com