Columbia reaches historical high for nuclear generation

This compares to 2018 EIA estimates of 4.8 cents for advanced combined-cycle natural gas, 4.7 cents for solar (after a 1.3 cent tax-payer subsidy) and 3.7 cents for on-shore wind (after a 1.1 cent tax-payer subsidy) for new generation resources that could enter service as early as 2022.

Columbia’s electricity output has steadily increased since 2011 in response to maintenance and upgrades that have added about 60 megawatts to its capacity. Columbia now has an output of 1,207 megawatts (gross), or enough clean energy to power Seattle and part of its metro area.

Since 2012 Columbia performed at an average capacity factor of 92 percent. Capacity factor refers to the amount of electricity a power plant produces compared to operational potential. According to the Energy Information Administration, national capacity factor averages are 55 percent for coal plants, about 50 for natural gas, 43 for hydro (closer to 50 for Northwest hydro, according to the Bonneville Power Administration), 35 for wind and 25 for solar.

“We are believers in renewables at Energy Northwest. We have hydro plants, we have a wind project, and we’re working to build a large solar project,” Sawatzke said. “But wind and solar on their own can’t provide electricity 24-hours a day, seven days a week. That’s just not realistic.”

“Nuclear is 24/7, carbon-free, and integrates well with hydro and intermittent renewables,” he said. “We have the ability to reduce nuclear power when the wind’s blowing and the sun’s shining and when there may be more megawatts electric out on the grid than is needed on any particular day. It’s just one more reason we believe nuclear must be part of the climate change solution going forward.”