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Energy Northwest (formerly Washington Public Power Supply System) is a United States public power joint operating agency formed by State law in 1957 to produce at-cost power for Northwest utilities. Headquartered in Richland, Washington, the WPPSS became commonly known as "Whoops" due to over-commitment to nuclear power in the 1970s which brought about financial collapse and the second largest municipal bond default in U.S. history. WPPSS was renamed Energy Northwest in November 1998. Agency membership includes 28 public power utilities, including 23 of the State’s 24 public utility districts.
Energy Northwest is governed by two boards: an executive board and a board of directors. The executive board has 11 members: five representatives from the board of directors, three gubernatorial appointees and three public representatives selected by the board of directors. The board of directors includes a representative from each member utility.
The consortium’s nuclear, hydro, wind, and solar projects deliver nearly 1,300 megawatts of electricity to the Northwest power grid. Current power projects include White Bluffs Solar Station, Packwood Lake Hydroelectric Project, Nine Canyon Wind Project, and Columbia Generating Station nuclear power plant.
Energy Northwest functions as a municipal corporation, similar to a town or city. That legal status allows the agency to issue public bonds to raise the financial capital necessary to build additional power generating and other public utility facilities.
New power generating facilities currently under consideration include additional wind power sites throughout Washington; a 320-megawatt natural gas plant in Kalama, Washington; a carbonless energy park in eastern Washington; and three solar projects in Oregon at 5-megawatts each. The agency also provides a variety of business services in the energy, power generation and technical fields, including a range of project management and facility operations and maintenance services.
In April 2006, Energy Northwest achieved ISO 14001:2004 registration, formalizing its environment stewardship program.
The public power movement gained prominence in the 1920s and 1930s under the leadership of the Washington State Grange, a non-partisan, grassroots advocacy group for rural citizens with both legislative programs and community activities. Public utility districts were created to provide reliable, low-cost power for the growing state.
On Jan. 31, 1957, the state legislature created the Washington Public Power Supply System, now known as Energy Northwest, as a joint operating agency to share the risks and rewards of building and operating electrical generating facilities. The power was to be provided, at the cost of production, to the ratepayers of those public utilities participating in the agency’s new projects.
The first generating source to be developed was the Packwood Lake Hydroelectric Project, located in Lewis County, Washington State approximately 20 miles south of Mount Rainier. The 27.5 megawatt project was designed to produce electricity while protecting the natural environment. Packwood continues to produce power into its fifth decade of operation. In February 2008, Energy Northwest submitted an application to renew the project’s operating license for an additional 50 years to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The agency expects to receive a license renewal for the project in 2010.
In September 1962, Congress passed and President John F. Kennedy signed a bill authorizing construction of a new dual-purpose nuclear reactor (the N Reactor) on the Hanford nuclear reservation. It was designed to produce both weapons-grade plutonium and steam to power turbine generators – thus its designation as a dual-purpose reactor. With support from U.S. Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson, the agency made a successful pitch to be the non-federal operator of the steam generator half of the project. President Kennedy presided over the groundbreaking in September 1963. Commercial operation of the 860-megawatt Hanford Generating Project began in April 1966.
For the agency, under the regionally developed Hydro-Thermal Power Program, the 1970s brought the challenge of attempting to simultaneously construct multiple nuclear power plants. Over-commitment to nuclear power brought about the financial collapse of the Washington Public Power Supply System, which undertook to build five large nuclear power plants in the 1970s. Other groups, including the city of Seattle, questioned the feasibility of the project. In July 1976, the Seattle City Council voted against participating in the building of the project 4 and 5 nuclear power plants based, citing a 12-volume study that recommended a program of conservation and alternative energy sources instead of participation in the nuclear plants. By 1983, cost overruns and delays, along with a slowing of electricity demand growth, led to cancellation of two WPPSS plants and a construction halt on the two-reactor Satsop Nuclear Power Plant which was 75% complete. Moreover, WPPSS defaulted on $2.25 billion of municipal bonds, which is the second largest municipal bond default in U.S. history. The court case that followed took nearly a decade to resolve. The WPPSS acquired the nickname "Whoops" in the media.
Fuel loading at Columbia Generating Station began on Dec. 25, 1983, and proceeded at a rate of 50 fuel assemblies per day. The process was completed Jan. 12, 1984, and Columbia was declared in commercial operation Dec. 13, 1984. On Jan 19, 2010, Energy Northwest submitted an application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a 20-year license renewal of Columbia Generating Station. The current license will expire near the end of 2023. License renewal is a NRC process that takes approximately 2½ years from the application submittal date.
The agency built and continues to operate White Bluffs Solar Station demonstration project, which was dedicated in May 2002. The low-maintenance, environmentally friendly project uses 242 photovoltaic panels to reach a production capacity of 38.7 kilowatts DC.
Energy Northwest next built and continues to operate the region’s first public power wind project – Nine Canyon Wind Project. It was dedicated in October 2002, with a second phase going online in December 2003, and the third and final phase in service in May 2008, bringing the total capacity to 95.9 megawatts.
- Asotin County PUD
- Benton County PUD
- Centralia City Light
- Chelan County PUD
- City of Port Angeles
- City of Richland
- Clallam County PUD
- Clark Public Utilities
- Cowlitz County PUD
- Ferry County PUD
- Franklin County PUD
- Grant County PUD
- Grays Harbor County PUD
- Jefferson County PUD
- Kittitas County PUD
- Klickitat County PUD
- Lewis County PUD
- Mason County PUD 1
- Mason County PUD 3
- Okanogan County PUD
- Pacific County PUD 2
- Pend Oreille PUD
- Seattle City Light
- Skamania County PUD
- Snohomish County PUD
- Tacoma Public Utilities
- Wahkiakum County PUD
- Whatcom County PUD
- Alexander, Charles. "Whoops! A $2 Billion Blunder: Washington Public Power Supply System". Time Magazine.
- Russel, Rob. "Muni Bonds: The Most Dangerous Bonds to Own". US News & World Report. Retrieved 15 February 2014.
- New York Times The Lessons of a Bond Failure Retrieved 2017-05-02
- Cambridge University Press Nuclear Implosions: The Rise and Fall of the Washington Public Power Supply System Retrieved 2008-11-11
- "Review of 'Nuclear implosions; the rise and fall of the Washington Public Power Supply System'". SciTech Book News. June 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-11.
- Pope, Daniel (July 31, 2008). "A Northwest distaste for nuclear power". Seattle Times. Retrieved 2008-11-11.