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Record Heat and Potential Blackouts Roll Into Northwestern US

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Record-high temperatures and below-average hydro-generation conditions will rock the Pacific Northwest in the coming days, with a record summer load forecast for the wholesale electrical providers in the region.

Temperatures are expected to reach or exceed all-time record highs in Seattle and Spokane, Washington; Portland, Oregon; and Boise, Idaho; after a “heat dome,” or large ridge of high pressure, that was over the southwestern U.S. and California last week reestablishes itself over the Northwestern U.S. late this week through early next week.

The heat will be a shock to residents of the region, especially those without air conditioning. Seattle and Portland rank first and third respectively for major U.S. cities with the fewest air-conditioned households, according to the U.S. Census.

Figure 1 | Temperatures in Portland, Seattle, Spokane and Boise are forecast to break records in the coming days.

Enverus is forecasting record summer load on Monday in the Mid-Columbia market, which exceed 132% of average on-peak average June load, or approaching 30,000 megawatts.

Figure 2 | Current Enverus forecasts show WECC Mid-C load peaking at a new record on Monday, June 28, 2021.

Power supplies struggle to keep up with strong pace of demand

While demand strains the grid amid high temperatures, unfortunately supply is not keeping up. Last year, two coal-fired power units retired: Centralia Unit 1, which has a capacity of 670 megawatts, and Colstrip 1 and 2, which is a 607 megawatt capacity plant.

In addition, Columbia River water conditions are below average, and Grand Coulee inflows are nearly 50% of average of where they should be this time of year.

Figure 3 | Enverus Pacific Northwest hydro-generation forecasts show below-average water conditions.

The coal plant retirements and below-average water conditions will limit BPA’s generation capacity at Grand Coulee as it drafts the Lake Roosevelt to try to generation power. Enverus is forecasting hydro-generation on Monday will be 3,000 megawatts below average for late June to try to supply enough generation for the region.

Enverus is forecasting scarcity pricing for the rest of June and has net load at the top of the “Mid-C Stack” for the rest of the month.

Figure 4 | Enverus predicts scarcity pricing for the remainder of June in Mid-C.

While it is still hard to say where wholesale prices will end up at the end of this event, the data do show a significant risk for rolling blackouts in the region.

If blackouts are a possibility, Bonneville Power Association (BPA), which provides wholesale power to the region, could be forced to reduce or stop spill passed hydro turbines so that they can produce more power. In addition, more water may be moved out of the reservoirs in Canada to Grand Coulee.

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Rob Allerman is Senior Director of Power Analytics at Enverus. Before joining Enverus, Rob was Head of North America Power Analytics at EDF Power Trading in Houston, Texas, and spent many years as a power analyst at Deutsche Bank. Rob also worked in the western U.S. for nearly 10 years at Power Utilities and started his career as a Hydrologist for the Federal Government.