Study Predicts Hefty Northwest Power Shortages Within 6 Years

The Pacific Northwest is looking at both near and long-term power shortages, according to a recent study from Energy and Environmental Economics (E3). The study was commissioned by Rye Development, a hydroelectric power company.   

By examining regional studies and aggregating capacity requirements, factoring in planned utility expansions, E3 concluded that the Pacific Northwest would face a capacity shortage of 7,000 megawatts (MW) by 2025. That deficit may increase to 10,000 MW by 2030, and potentially 20,000 or more by 2050. One megawatt powers about 1,000 homes.  

Capacity refers to a power plant’s ability to reliably generate its maximum amount of power. E3 attributes the shortage to two factors: high peak demand and the ongoing retirement of thermal power sources like coal.  

While energy demand in the Pacific Northwest typically peaks in winter, E3 notes that peak demand in summer is “significant,” and both are continuing to rise yearly.   

Furthermore, while coal has a relatively stable output all year round, solar and wind power sources are unreliable in winter. The retirement of coal-fueled power stations is thus leaving gaps in the overall capacity of the region.   

E3 reports that its findings are consistent with studies carried out over the last two years by the Bonneville Power Administration, Pacific Northwest Utilities Conference Committee, and the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.  

By Brandon Urey