Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Employee Portal

Columbia reaches historical high for nuclear generation

Mike Paoli, Public Affairs, 509-713-4950
Anna Markham, Public Affairs, 509-430-9918

RICHLAND, Wash. – Columbia Generating Station produced more clean, nuclear energy for the Northwest power grid during 2018 than any other year in its 34-year history. Columbia sent more than 9.7 million megawatt-hours of electricity to the grid, surpassing the previous generation record set in 2016 (9.6 million MWhrs). Columbia has set new generation records five out of the last seven years.

“It’s about mitigating climate change one clean megawatt at a time, while providing 24/7, low-cost electricity throughout the Northwest,” said Energy Northwest CEO Brad Sawatzke. “Our team’s doing an outstanding job increasing nuclear performance, which continues to lower the cost of our electric bills.”

At a five-year average of 7.25 cents per kilowatt-hour, Washington state has the lowest cost of retail electricity in the United States, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Energy Northwest estimates Columbia’s cost of power will average 4.2 cents per kilowatt-hour during its 2018-2019 fuel cycle, down from 6.3 cents, adjusted for inflation, during its 2010-2011 cycle. Columbia refuels every two years, resulting in higher cost of power during refueling years and lower cost during non-refueling, full-run years. As a result, EN measures generation costs in two-year averages.


Columbia Generation Station Cost of Power (2010-2019)

Fuel Cycle
(fiscal years)​
Cost Per Kilowatt-Hour​
​FY10-11 ​6.30¢
FY12-13​ ​5.75¢
FY14-15​ ​5.10¢
​FY16-17 ​4.70¢

This compares to 2018 EIA estimates of 4.8 cents for advanced combined-cycle natural gas, 4.7 cents for solar (after a 1.3 cent tax-payer subsidy) and 3.7 cents for on-shore wind (after a 1.1 cent tax-payer subsidy) for new generation resources that could enter service as early as 2022.

Columbia’s electricity output has steadily increased since 2011 in response to maintenance and upgrades that have added about 60 megawatts to its capacity. Columbia now has an output of 1,207 megawatts (gross), or enough clean energy to power Seattle and part of its metro area.

Since 2012 Columbia performed at an average capacity factor of 92 percent. Capacity factor refers to the amount of electricity a power plant produces compared to operational potential. According to the Energy Information Administration, national capacity factor averages are 55 percent for coal plants, about 50 for natural gas, 43 for hydro (closer to 50 for Northwest hydro, according to the Bonneville Power Administration), 35 for wind and 25 for solar.

“We are believers in renewables at Energy Northwest. We have hydro plants, we have a wind project, and we’re working to build a large solar project,” Sawatzke said. “But wind and solar on their own can’t provide electricity 24-hours a day, seven days a week. That’s just not realistic.”

“Nuclear is 24/7, carbon-free, and integrates well with hydro and intermittent renewables,” he said. “We have the ability to reduce nuclear power when the wind’s blowing and the sun’s shining and when there may be more megawatts electric out on the grid than is needed on any particular day. It’s just one more reason we believe nuclear must be part of the climate change solution going forward.”

Columbia is the third-largest generator of electricity in Washington, behind the Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams. Energy Northwest sells Columbia’s power at the cost of production to the Bonneville Power Administration, and distributed throughout Bonneville’s eight-state service area.


Columbia Generation Station Net Generation (2012-2018)


Calendar Year​ Net Generation (MWhrs)​
Refueling Year Record​
Refueling Year
Refueling Year


About Energy Northwest

Energy Northwest owns and operates a diverse mix of 100 percent clean electricity generating resources: hydro, solar and wind projects, and the third-largest provider of electricity in Washington – the Columbia Generating Station nuclear power facility. These projects provide carbon-free electricity at the cost of generation – enough clean, cost-effective and reliable energy to power more than a million homes each year. As an independent joint action agency of Washington state, Energy Northwest comprises 27 public power member utilities from across the state serving more than 1.5 million customers. The agency continually explores new generation projects to meet its members’ needs. In 2016, the Association of Washington Business named Energy Northwest the state’s Employer of the Year.

Sign In