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Power Station Failure Forces BPA to Resort to Emergency Buying
This story was published 6/27/2000
By Chris Mulick
Herald staff writer
Energy Northwest's Columbia Generating Station shut down unexpectedly Monday morning, forcing the Bonneville Power Administration to dig deep to meet the region's energy demands.
The outage could cost ratepayers anywhere from $20 million to $75 million, depending on market prices for replacement power this week. And when Bonneville couldn't buy energy at needed quantities between noon and 6 p.m. Monday, it exercised emergency measures to use water being stored for fish runs to generate power.
An electrical relay tripped at the plant north of Richland about 8:25 a.m. That ultimately shut down the entire plant automatically. No safety or security systems were affected.
The plant is expected to restart Wednesday and be back at full power Thursday.
The unplanned outage, the plant's first in more than two years, couldn't have come at a worse time. Electricity markets have gone wild since the arrival of warmer temperatures in California around early May. With the mercury soaring again to begin the week, electricity was being sold on the California Power Exchange on Monday at $1.31 a kilowatt hour on average and for as much as $2.87 a kilowatt hour.
By comparison, Tri-City consumers pay a little more than 2 cents a kilowatt hour for their juice. When distribution costs are added, total bills come out to a little more than 5 cents a kilowatt hour.
The reaction to the outage was swift, both by Bonneville and sellers eager to make a killing in a suddenly tighter market.
"The prices we're paying are a direct result of our predicament," Bonneville spokesman Perry Gruber said. "We're not willing to be extorted."
Even so, the agency spent $10 million within 10 minutes of the outage buying up replacement power. Among Bonneville's purchases was one for 300 megawatts to cover Monday evening loads at a rate of $7.50 a kilowatt hour.
Though Bonneville has historically been a big seller of surplus power during the month of June, a late runoff and plans to hold water back for fish have turned the agency into a buyer.
But Bonneville didn't anticipate it would be such a big buyer this week as it struggles to meet demand.
"It's an hour-by-hour vigil," Gruber said. "It's basically a system on the edge."
More power will be purchased on the spot market as needed, Gruber said. The agency is hoping it won't have to use more water being stored for the annual fish flush to produce power.
"Everything we're doing is robbing Peter to pay Paul," he said.
Energy Northwest spokesman John Britton said crews still were investigating why the relay tripped Monday afternoon.
"We're still trouble-shooting," he said.
The value of Columbia Generating Station's power had been escalating with market prices. During the week of June 8-14, the plant produced power worth more than $2 million a day. http://www.tri-cityherald.com/news/2000/0627/Story%203
-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), June 27, 2000