The Oregonian reports yet another inconvenient truth:
Utility customers gulped power at record levels Monday and Tuesday as the Portland area entered the longest stretch of 100-degree days in nearly three decades.
Supply is another story.
Hydropower accounts for about 40 percent of the region’s electricity, and global warming could have a significant impact on river flows. The consensus among scientists is that climate change will cause more of the Northwest’s precipitation to fall in the form of rain versus snow. A lesser snowpack means a smaller bank of stored water, and an earlier spring runoff, when the resulting hydropower is less valuable.
Greenhouse gas limits may also force utilities to close some of their coal-fired power plants, which provide a cheap and reliable source of power year round. Meanwhile, utilities are investing heavily in renewable resources such as wind to meet state mandates. But they can’t count on that power when they need it most, as the same high-pressure systems that create heat waves tend to come with low wind.
“There seems to be a lot of evidence that when you get extreme cold or heat events, you don’t see very much wind generation, at least at the east end of the gorge,” said Wallace Gibson, a generation and transmission analyst with the power planning council. “Right now, we’re pretty much not relying on wind to meet peak loads.”
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