NWPCC says planned coal retirements may make power supply inadequate by 2021

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council reports that its 2024 Resource Adequacy Assessment finds power supply in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. is “likely to become inadequate by 2021 due to the planned retirement of 1,619 megawatts of coal-fired generating capacity.”

As the Northwest’s power system transitions from fossil fuel-based generation to more intermittent renewable resources like wind and solar, a critical concern is how to ensure the region will have the power it needs. The council adopted a resource adequacy standard in 2011 to assess the Northwest power supply and alert the region if resource development fails to keep pace with demand growth.

Every year, NWPCC assesses the adequacy of the power supply five years into the future to give utilities time to acquire new resources, if needed. The standard deems the power supply to be adequate when the likelihood of a shortfall is no more than 5%.

NWPCC says coal generation has been part of the region’s power supply since the 1950s, but “…generating electricity from coal, at least in the West, may become a thing of the past…utilities’ plans indicate the decline of coal generation in the West will be rapid over the next decade.”

The latest assessment finds that the power supply is likely to become inadequate by 2021 due to the planned coal retirements. The assessment includes existing resources, planned resources that are sited and licensed, and targeted future energy efficiency savings. However, the assessment doesn’t include utilities’ replacement plans. Utilities will have different needs for new resources and are planning for any projected shortfalls in their individual integrated resource plans. Without including utilities’ replacement plans, the supply shortfall is estimated to be about 7.5%.

By 2024, with the planned retirement of an additional 127 MW of coal plant capacity, the shortfall potential grows to 8.2%; by 2026, with another 804 MW of coal plant capacity retiring, it grows to 17%; and with the retirement of an additional 1,060 MW by 2032, the region would be facing a very large resource gap.

The Council’s next power plan, scheduled to be completed by 2021, will explore solutions to this problem to help the region develop a strategy to secure an adequate and affordable power supply.

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