Diverse Energy Portfolio Keeps Electricity Flowing When Water Is Scarce
By Phil DeVol
Life is full of uncertainties; flipping on the light switch shouldn't be one of them. Idaho Power works every day to make our electrical system stronger, more reliable, and ready when you need it. Flip the switch, turn on, plug in: We'll be there.
Ensuring energy is available to fuel our lives and our businesses takes careful planning. The foresight that brought the Hells Canyon Dam complex to the Snake River more than 50 years ago resulted in a legacy of clean, fair-priced energy for Idahoans. Building on that history requires a vigilant eye toward the future. Our long-term planning process – called the Integrated Resource Plan – ensures our customers have a voice in how that electricity is produced and delivered, and that a wide range of resources is available to meet demand.
If there's one thing we've learned from nearly a century of operations, it's that energy diversity means energy security. Our resource portfolio is currently among the most diverse – and therefore secure – in the nation. We leverage hydropower and thermal plants to provide dependable "baseload" energy, as well as purchased renewable resources, and combine them all with a robust set of energy efficiency programs and incentives. It's the same principle as an investment portfolio; a variety of resources minimizes the risk that comes with having all your eggs in one basket.
Currently, hydropower remains our least-cost option, and this clean, renewable resource forms the basis of our portfolio. But it isn't enough. In years when water is scarce and during summer months when demand is at its peak, low-emissions coal facilities and high-efficiency gas plants serve our needs reliably and cost-effectively. Purchased wind, solar and other renewable resources also play a role, but they can't always be counted on to deliver, and they also come at a higher cost.
In general, years with ample snowpack are better for customers because water is our least expensive fuel source. But Mother Nature is a fickle power provider. The amount of snow in the mountains – and water in the rivers – can vary dramatically from year to year. Wind is intermittent and can change from minute to minute. Solar also comes and goes, depending on the weather. And all the while, customer demand is expected to continue its slow, steady increase.
Mediocre winter snowpack, combined with an extremely dry late winter and spring in the Snake River Basin and low carryover in the Upper Snake reservoir system, will sharply reduce the amount of water available for hydroelectric generation. Just how dry this summer will be remains uncertain, but temperatures have warmed quickly and irrigation demand has already begun to have an impact. Only time will tell if we will experience extended high temperatures that resulted in our all-time peak demand being set last summer.
We don't know how the summer will play out, or whether it will be followed by another dry season, but we do know this: Electricity will be there when our customers need it. Our mission – to provide reliable, responsible, fair-priced energy – is not at the whim of Mother Nature. We'll continue to be mindful of the impact energy costs have on our customers, and balance our resources appropriately.
Learn more about Idaho Power's long-term planning process.
Phil DeVol is a resource planning leader for Idaho Power.