WA: Whoops is gone, but power worries aren't

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Whoops is gone, but power worries aren't

Wednesday, July 12, 2000


WHAT? AN ENERGY crisis? An electricity shortage?

Well that should be easy enough to solve. All we need to do is build a bunch of generating plants.

Oops. Or rather, whoops. We tried that once. And we're still paying for it.

Whoops is not just an expression, or a way to pronounce an acronym. I

A bit of a synopsis here for those who came in late: Whoops, actually WPPSS, is a shorthand reference to the Washington Public Power Supply System and its overly ambitious plan in the late 1970s to build five nuclear power plants in response to warnings that the region's electricity surplus was almost used up. A recession hit the region, cutting demand; construction costs got out of hand; and increased rates to pay for those costs proved something that experts hadn't believed possible -- that power consumption was not inelastic, meaning that demand did vary according to price.

The result: Only one of the five plants was ever built. WPPSS defaulted on the bonds for two of the plants, producing what was, at least at the time, the biggest municipal bond default in the nation's history. Those two massive cooling towers you see at Satsop, on the highway to Aberdeen-Hoquiam, are a concrete monument to that ugly episode.

But those towers, and the debt that wasn't defaulted on, aren't the only legacies of WPPSS. So, too, is the air of wariness about spending billions on new generating capacity that isn't needed, or when cheaper alternatives might be available. So, too, is a regional mechanism for planning that is supposed to ward off another debacle.



-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), July 14, 2000

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