The takeaway from my report on whether California can help resolve the wind vs. water conflict in the Northwest is that shipping surplus power down south only works if you have the transmission and the market to do it. There are several ways the Bonneville Power Administration might avoid shutting down wind turbines in the future. One is upgrading transmission lines to expand power pathways, allowing more electricity to be sent to California, or other places like Montana or Canada.
But this year, a combination of high water, a weak economy and low temperatures created what BPA spokesman Mike Hansen called “the perfect storm” of problems for power managers. There might have been enough transmission capacity to send surplus power to California … but folks down there had their own glut of hydropower and didn’t need as much as usual because they weren’t using as much electricity for industry or air conditioning. The result, Hansen said, was BPA had lots of hydropower and no buyers.
Grist has some helpful charts linking economic downturns with low electricity demand. As The Columbian reported this weekend, Clark Public Utilities shut down its generating station for an unprecedented seven months because nobody needed the power. The fact that wind turbines are contributing a new source of power to the system – and earning tax credits to do so – is just one more piece of the Northwest oversupply puzzle. From The Columbian:
“High water on the Columbia River has provided abundant fuel for the region’s hydroelectric dams since last winter. Meanwhile, an ever-growing collection of wind farms — mostly in the Columbia River Gorge — continue to pump more energy into the system when they’re spinning. The region’s wind farms are now capable of producing more than 3,500 megawatts of energy combined, almost double their capacity just two years ago.”