Energy Northwest Outlines Facts behind the Headlines

If news reporting reflected the rest of the story, we would’ve recently read, “PPC analysis: McCullough plan would cost Northwest customers $271 million a year.” 

Unfortunately, news tends to work on a first-come-only-one-served basis, and we’re left with The Oregonian’s Feb. 21 headline, “Study: Savings possible by shutting down nuclear power plant.”

Portland economist Robert McCullough had just published a report pushed by Physicians for Social Responsibility, an anti-nuclear energy group dedicated to closing Columbia Generating Station nuclear energy facility and eliminating nuclear energy entirely from the U.S. electricity mix. The report claimed closing Columbia and replacing it with renewables (wind + solar) would yield huge savings. It did yield huge headlines.

McCullough based his conclusions mostly on levelized cost of electricity reports by Lazard, a financial advisory and asset management firm. However, in doing so he misrepresents the Lazard LCOE 10.0 report, which clearly states that renewables alone can’t replace baseload generation. By ignoring the cost of firm capacity resources needed to back up intermittent generation from renewables, McCullough significantly under-represents the costs that would be incurred if Columbia were retired prematurely (it’s currently licensed through 2043).

McCullough’s conclusion: replacing Columbia with renewables yields a net present value savings of $261.2 million to $530.7 million through June 2026.

But the Public Power Council, also based in Portland, reviewed the McCullough study and came to a very different conclusion in a recently released analysis.

How did that happen? The PPC used numbers pertinent to the Pacific Northwest from studies by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, not "median" numbers from a national average.

The PPC conclusion: McCullough’s recommendation would cost Pacific Northwest power customers $271 million a year, as well as impact the region’s power supply resource adequacy.

Read the Energy Northwest blog post for the full story and to see the PPC analysis.