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Bonneville Power Administration Energy Trading Floor

Where does OPALCO get its power? Our usual response is that it comes from the Bonneville Power Administration or from the Federal Columbia River Power System. The fuel mix that makes up the power OPALCO delivers to its members is primarily carbon-free, renewable hydropower. But, the full answer to the question is that it comes from all over the region and is managed by a specialized team of real-time energy traders and schedulers like BPA’s Anna Wills.

trading floor“We are on duty 24-hours a day. We work 12-hour shifts, including weekends and holidays,” said Wills. Real-time traders and schedulers keep the power grid in constant balance, with the amount of energy that’s produced exactly matching the power consumed from second to second. While BPA has planners and traders that focus on long-term transactions months in advance, real-time traders are focused on transactions for the hour ahead and within the hour, making fine-tuned adjustments to constantly balance energy and demand as conditions change.

Wills explained, “Our priority is to buy, sell and schedule energy to optimize water – which is our fuel – in the FCRPS to meet the power needs of our utility customers. We work in hourly, 15- and 5-minute markets, so it’s very fast-paced. This means every deal is on a quick timeline, creating an exciting and fluid environment for scheduling.”

bpa trading floorWhy is real-time trading important? BPA’s mission is to provide its customers reliable, carbon-free power in a cost-effective manner. “As a real-time trader,” Wills said, “my responsibility is to help balance generation and load. We sell power when the FCRPS has surplus resources and purchase power when we can’t meet our customers’ needs with what’s available in the federal system. Real-time traders must also be prepared to help BPA hydro schedulers meet hydrological goals such as making room in reservoirs for flood control or managing water flow levels to aid in protecting endangered fish. We do this through our sales and purchases. We try to think ten steps ahead to make sure we use our hydropower resources effectively.”

The power OPALCO gets from BPA is 95% carbon-free on average, with hydropower making up the majority of the fuel mix. This firm resource is critical to complement intermittent renewable resources like solar and wind. “Bonneville’s hydropower product has greatly contributed to maintaining a clean power grid in the Northwest and even beyond our region,” said Wills. “Through my work as a real-time trader, I am learning a lot about the complexity of integrating renewable energy into the power grid. I think this will be useful in my career as the nation’s power grid becomes less and less carbon dependent.”

Wills loves the challenge and opportunities for learning new things in the job. “When we purchase energy, we have to first get it to our system via transmission lines,” said Wills. “Each line follows a specific path to get from point A to point B. I enjoy searching for available transmission avenues required to reach a specific point of delivery. The job requires critical thought to solve various problems, the ability to think ahead for optimizing our power, and there are always new things to learn about each of the systems that serves our customers with clean, reliable energy.”

After earning university degrees in German and French, Wills came to BPA through its Pathways Recent College Graduate Program: a unique opportunity for candidates from any field of study, and who have no industry experience, to learn the utility industry from the ground up. Her advice to others who may be interested in the field:

“First, as a college graduate, do not shy away from applying from an interesting job opening – even if you don’t think you have the specific experience. I believe that with hard work and a drive to learn, any new material can become accessible, no matter the field. I was able to learn what I needed from on-the-job training and through the mentorship of my colleagues.

And, second, ask to work with a variety of people and on different projects, because it will help you gain more diverse work experience and on-the-job training, which will probably increase your opportunities.”

Learn more about the Pathways Student Internship and Pathways Recent College Graduate Programs on the BPA Careers page. Learn about local career paths in the energy world with OPALCO at www.opalco.com/careers.

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