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Murray Journal

Murray Power: Persistent drought could cause havoc with power supply

Nov 08, 2021 03:04PM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Students tour one of three natural gas turbines that Murray Power operates. (Photo courtesy Murray Power)

By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]

Murray Power General Manager Blaine Haacke warned city leaders at the Sept. 7 Committee of the Whole meeting that if the drought persists, Murray’s power supply could get expensive or even be jeopardized. Murray Power General Manager Blaine Haacke addressed the mayor and city council during his quarterly report, warning that some of the city’s hydroelectric sources are in danger.

Part of Murray Power’s portfolio, the Colorado River Storage Project (CRSP), provides the company with 30% of its supply. Extensive hydroelectric facilities along the Colorado River, such as the Glen Canyon Dam built in the 1960s, provide Murray with cheap renewable energy. However, with Lake Powell shrinking, the ability of dams along the river to produce energy is in doubt.

“We’re getting to dire straits on the level of the production right now. The lake is at 3,525 feet, which is 35 feet above the critical point where the water goes into the intake. (That is) about 120 feet below full, and if we go (down) another 35 feet, we’re sucking air, and there’s no more hydro production,” Haacke said. 

Due to the waterlevel crisis, the cost of power is expected to increase 20-25% between Oct. 1 to Dec. 1.

“We’ve reached the point where the federal government is getting a little worried about contractually giving us the power that we’ve had since 1964,” Haacke said.

Murray Power’s other hydroelectric resources are also struggling due to a lack of water. As a result, an engineering firm, Bowen Collins, is conducting a study to determine if the company should invest in updating machinery. 

With record heat this summer, Murray Power had to run all three of it natural gas turbines. Typically, they remain dormant until August. However, they kicked in on June 15.

“We peaked at 100.5 megawatts, which is the highest peak we’ve ever had in June and July. We have three of them, about 30 megawatts total, 10 megawatts apiece. We ran them 22 of 31 days in July, and in August, we ran them 17 of 31 days,” Haacke said.

Murray’s options moving forward include buying additional energy from the market. Or, as a member of UAMPS, strike a deal with other municipal power members with a surplus, such as Idaho Falls, or negotiate for missing kilowatt-hours allocated in 1964.

The city could also run its natural gas turbines more frequently or call back energy from the Intermountain Power Plant in Delta, Utah, which is a comparatively more expensive cost option at $60 per megawatt-hour.

“I don’t want to paint too dire of a situation right now; we’ve got enough to cover for at least the nine months or so. But if this drought continues for two or three years, we’ll be coming back and saying we need to do something, and our reserves might not be enough. We might have an emergency situation,” Haacke said.

Murray will be adding five megawatts from the Red Mesa Solar Plant on the Navajo Nation to its portfolio. With groundbreaking expected soon, the project will be up and running by spring 2022. The plant will produce 66 megawatts at an anticipated cost of $23 per megawatt but will increase to $30 per megawatt in 20 years when the contract expires.

Also, Murray is considering energy from a massive carbon capture facility. Carbon capture is the process of capturing carbon dioxide formed during power generation and storing it so that it is not emitted into the atmosphere. Enchant Energy Corp. will take over the San Juan coal fire plant, which will close this spring due to environmental legislation. As a result, Murray will lose 1.6 megawatts of energy; however, if the plant can be repurposed into a carbon capture facility, the city is interested in obtaining 4-5 megawatts.