This report is contributed by InvestigateWest as part of its yearlong reporting initiative Getting to Zero. InvestigateWest’s work is supported in part by the Fund for Investigative Journalism.
The spring of 2019 opened with a deep chill across Cascadia. An Arctic air mass poured past the 49th parallel, simultaneously jacking up energy consumption and straining energy supplies in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. It conjured a dangerously “perfect” storm for the region’s electricity grid.
When temperatures began to plummet on March 1, 2019, Cascadia’s hydropower reservoirs sat at record low levels following weak fall rains and an exceptionally cold winter. Mechanical trouble had halved power output from the Centralia, Washington, coal-fired power plant — the largest generator between Seattle and Portland. Furthermore, the low-pressure weather system was crimping generation from Cascadia’s wind farms. And maintenance work on lines in Los Angeles limited the amount of power that could flow north from generators in the Southwest.
Utilities appealed to citizens to conserve energy. Industries cut back as power prices spiked. And ... Read more