How likely are electricity blackouts in Southwest Washington? The issue was front and center during last month’s multiday freeze extending from Seattle through the Midwest and notably to Texas. There, the historic prolonged cold, combined with ice, disabled most electricity resources, the natural gas system and water service. People, including at least one child, died.
In Clark County, the freeze was of shorter duration. Two well-managed systems — Clark Public Utilities and NW Natural — divided the heating load to keep the region’s homes mostly safe, warm and supplied with energy under highly challenging conditions.
But what if two energy sources — electricity and natural gas — were to be reduced to just electricity? Basic economics tell you that if you have two sources and one is eliminated, costs will rise. More crucially, reliability may suffer. To address possible tight supplies, electric utilities are planning “smart meters” to cut load in high-demand periods.
Diminishing fossil fuel use such as gasoline and natural gas is indeed the aim of the city of Vancouver’s Ordinance M-4295, a moratorium “prohibiting the establishment of new, or expansion of existing, large-scale fossil fuel facilities.” First adopted in June, the moratorium was extended in December for six months, giving the city “time to update its Strategic Plan, Vancouver City Center Vision … and Climate Action Plan.”
City residents will do well to scrutinize costs and risks as well as benefits. The ordinance bans “large-scale” facilities, exempting gas stations and propane refueling. It does not yet prohibit natural gas connections to new homes, businesses or apartments, but it bans “devices that transfer natural gas for use in the production of electricity or power,” such as the gas pipeline fueling Clark Public Utilities’ essential River Road generating station.