WILLIAM McCALL AP Business Writer
PORTLAND, Ore. Northwesterners can feel a little more snug as fall fades into winter this year with energy forecasters calling for a surplus of electricity to power homes and businesses. The Pacific Northwest power supply stands at about 2,400 megawatts in excess of average annual demand enough electricity to light two cities the size of Seattle, according to a recent analysis by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. The forecast marks a major recovery from 2001, when the Western energy crisis had strained the electricity supply and sent prices skyrocketing. “It’s actually quite a story,” said John Fazio, senior analyst for the four-state council based in Portland that oversees energy planning in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana. Others are more cautious, but share some of the council’s optimism for the regional energy outlook. In a separate analysis by the PNUCC the Pacific Northwest Utilities Conference Committee different methods and figures are used to arrive at a deficit of about 800 megawatts for the region this winter. But one of the major differences in the two approaches is the PNUCC treats an estimated contribution of nearly 2,700 megawatts from independent power producers as a separate category from the utilities in the region. Adding that number to the PNUCC forecast would create a surplus of nearly 1,900 megawatts, much closer to the Northwest council estimate. “The bottom line for me, from my perspective, is that I agree with John that the region’s in pretty good shape,” said Dick Adams, PNUCC executive director. “But while we both come to the conclusion that we’re OK today, we have to begin taking action to meet the next five years of load,” Adams said. Fazio said that utility deregulaTion in the 1990s led many utility managers to defer investment in new generating sources while they waited for the market for excess power to develop. “A lot of utilities worried they wouldn’t get a return on their investment, so there was a lot of discussion about the market and how it will take care of everything _ independent power producers will build resources,” Fazio said. “But the question is, how much do you want to rely on the market?” he said. In 1999, the region was at a 4,000 average megawatt deficit meaning that generating capacity was not keeping pace with electricity demand, Fazio said. By 2001, “it was a mess,” he said _ with a Northwest drought sharply reducing regional hydroelectric production, Enron Corp. influence on the energy market before its bankruptcy and deregulation efforts foundering in California. But since 1999, the region has lost about 10 percent of its demand largely from the decline of the aluminum industry and increased its generating capacity by about 15 percent, Fazio said.