Northwest power planners may do their own review to determine the impacts of shutting down the only nuclear power plant in the region.
At a meeting Tuesday, members of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council discussed the wildly conflicting results of two studies on the Columbia Generating Station nuclear plant.
One study was commissioned by Physicians for Social Responsibility, which opposes the plant's continued operation. That report found shutting down the nuclear plant and using other sources of electricity instead would save $1.7 billion in electricity costs over the next 17 years.
Another study, commissioned by the owner of the nuclear plant, Energy Northwest, concluded that keeping the plant open through 2043 would save $1.6 billion compared with the next best alternative of replacing it with a natural gas-fired power plant.
"Both reports ask the same question: Is it cost-effective to keep operating or not?" Charlie Black, director of power planning, told council members. "We have two conflicting reports that have come at this from different viewpoints, making different assumptions and reaching different conclusions."
Many people are asking whether the council will get involved in the discussion, Black said. The council's mission is to ensure affordable and reliable energy for the region.
Black suggested three possible actions power planners could take, including an assessment of what the balance of power in the Northwest would look like without 1150 megawatts of electricity from the nuclear plant.
Several council members said they would support that option as the council is building its seventh 20-year power plan – a look at where the region's energy will come from and how much it will cost in the future.
"We want a plan that is adequate, efficient and viable, and part of that is anticipating power sources in the future," Councilor Tom Karier of Washington said. "I think when we get to that point, we should consider a scenario like that."
Councilor Jim Yost of Idaho said as part of the power planning process, the council will model a number of scenarios at the end of this year. One of those scenarios could focus on what would happen if the Northwest didn't have 1150 megawatts of nuclear power.
"That would be an extreme model scenario that we may look at as we prepare the seventh plan," Yost said. If the plant were to shut down, he said, the region would lose a lot of its energy supply – enough electricity to power the city of Seattle. "It would be a huge issue for the Northwest in reliability, safety and adequacy."