Renewable energy | Ecotrope

Here, now: All-renewable electricity

Ecotrope | May 17, 2011 4:58 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:38 p.m.

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This real-time graph of power generation across much of the Northwest shows lots of hydropower and wind energy and virtually no thermal generation from natural gas or coal-fired power plants. The brown line running along the bottom of the graph is thermal generation.

This real-time graph of power generation across much of the Northwest shows lots of hydropower and wind energy and virtually no thermal generation from natural gas or coal-fired power plants. The brown line running along the bottom of the graph is thermal generation.

Bonneville Power Administration has shut down natural gas, nuclear and coal-fired power plants to make room on the grid for lots of hydropower coming from spring water runoff passing through dams in the Columbia River Basin.

BPA spokesman Michael Milstein tells me that as a result the Northwest is now running almost entirely on renewable electricity – powered by water and wind. This near-real-time graph above proves it.

“There is probably no other place in the country where this would be possible,” Milstein noted via e-mail.

Right now, wind energy is the next largest power producer after hydro, but it could be next to go. Under a new temporary rule, BPA is allowed to dial down wind turbines and sub in hydropower when there’s more renewable power supply than the region’s customers need.

The new plan has been opposed by the wind industry and several folks in Congress because it puts wind-energy production tax credits and other revenue at risk. But BPA says shutting down wind turbines needs to be an option – at least for now. BPA can spill water over the dams instead of putting it through turbines when there’s too much power on the grid, but only to a point. Too much water spilling over the dams creates gas bubbles that are harmful to protected species of salmon and steelhead.

The regional power managers at BPA say when there’s too much water and too much wind and they can’t spill any more water over the dams, shutting down wind turbines is their only option.

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