Renewable energy | Ecotrope

Wind vs. water: The power struggle continues

Ecotrope | May 13, 2011 10:26 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:38 p.m.

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Bonneville Power Administration just announced it will reserve the right to dial down wind turbines this spring to manage the renewable power gridlock that comes when the region has too much wind and water at the same time.

The BPA’s new policy could mean wind energy producers lose tax credits and other income they earn from generating power.

BPA administrator Steve Wright called it an “interim” but “unavoidable” step to match power supply with demand and avoid harming salmon by spilling too much water over dams in the Columbia Basin. Critics responded to the decision by accusing BPA of using salmon to shut down wind power. But BPA says it doesn’t have any other options.

The Northwest is facing some major snowmelt this year, with more water expected to run through the Columbia River Basin than we’ve seen since 1999. Generally, BPA can spill water over dams to reduce hydroelectric power generation when there’s too much power coming onto the grid. But that strategy has a limit. Spill too much, and salmon can get hurt from dissolved oxygen in the water.

The BPA has taken other steps to free up grid space for more hydropower so it can avoid spilling too much water. The agency is maximizing storage space for excess water, freeing up transmission space on lines to Canada and California, using extra energy to pump water into irrigation storage space above Grand Coulee Dam, and offering cheap or free power rates to get customers to substitute hydropower for fossil fuels.

Turning off wind turbines will be a last resort, BPA says. The regional power manager also has agreements to turn down production at coal, natural gas and nuclear power plants to make way for hydropower.

“This was an extremely difficult decision for me,” Wright said in a news release. ”Despite months of searching through a robust public process, there was no good choice here. I believe we have adopted the option that best preserves reliability, protects salmon and avoids increased costs on average to Northwest ratepayers.”

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