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Monday, October 26, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Washington

Energy Northwest under ‘no touch’ order during heat wave

By Annette Cary Tri-City Herald

At Hanford this week, the rule is “no touch.”

The Bonneville Power Administration asked Energy Northwest not to do any significant maintenance or surveillance that in any way would jeopardize the Columbia Generating Station from operating at 100 percent power, said Energy Northwest spokesman Mike Paoli.

With a heat wave settling over the Northwest, BPA is watching for its summertime record of electricity demand to fall.

At 6 p.m. on July 16, 2014, with air conditioners and fans humming along to provide relief, electricity peaked at 7,861 megawatts. That’s about 600 megawatts more than on a typical summer day.

The Tri-Cities is under a heat advisory until 8 p.m. Friday, with the National Weather Service expecting temperatures to peak at 104 degrees that day.

The current forecast is down a couple of degrees from earlier forecasts.

The smoke from wildfires that is fouling the air also is providing some cooling, according to the weather service. Sunlight hitting the smoke is reflected away from the Earth.

Highs still are expected to remain in the triple digits at least through Monday.

But it’s not just the Tri-Cities that will be hot. Normally cooler areas, like Portland, may have even warmer. Temperatures there could reach 106 degrees Thursday.

Seattle will be cooler, with a forecast peak high of 96 degrees Thursday, but that’s still a potential record setter in an area that has only seen triple digit temperatures three times in more than a century.

With demand for electricity expected to be high, BPA does not want to take any chances that it loses the 1,207 megawatts Energy Northwest’s nuclear plant is cranking out. Each megawatt may power 700 to 1,000 homes.

It asked Energy Northwest if it would implement the no-touch policy for Monday through Friday of this week. Weekdays have higher energy use than weekends.

“Columbia Generating Station is important for its reliability, especially when high pressure systems like this park extreme hot or cold air over the Northwest,” said David Wilson, a BPA spokesman.

Wind turbines may not turn as the wind slows when weather systems like the current heat wave settle in.

Water flow has dropped by August and hydroelectric dams may have more demands on their systems for fish.

The nuclear plant protects BPA from having to go out on the open market to purchase power, Wilson said.

With demand up because of the heat, so are the market prices for the power available for BPA to purchase, said Mike Hansen, a BPA spokesman.

“Nuclear power works with the hydro system to make sure we can all run our air conditioner and keep safe without reaching deep into our pockets,” Paoli said.

Workers at Columbia Generating Station do preventive maintenance work around the clock. Some work will continue this week and some has been deferred until the demand for electricity in the region drops.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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