Excess hydro power could force wind farms to shut down
The Portland-based BPA may have to limit production from wind farms to free space in the regional power grid, The Seattle Times reported Wednesday.
"We're looking at doing everything we can to avoid the shutdowns, but you have to be able to do something when your back is against the wall," said Doug Johnson, a BPA spokesman.
The wind-power producers are fighting the proposal that could cost them millions in lost revenue.
"There has been a strong united (wind industry) voice saying 'This is not reasonable,'" says Roby Roberts, a vice president of Horizon Wind Energy, which has built wind farms in Oregon and Washington.
Wind farms have been sprouting in Washington and Oregon thanks to tax credits and requirements that utilities use more renewable energy. The Northwest farms are capable of producing up to 3,500 megawatts of power more than triple the energy of the Northwest's sole nuclear-power plant. And that capacity could double by 2015.
A wind power shutdown would be a last resort, the BPA said, but it has to be ready to balance the flow of energy it markets in the Northwest as well as meeting commitments to ratepayers, helping salmon and selling power outside the region.
The industry says if there are shutdowns it should be compensated for lost revenue. Such payments would raise operating costs and could push up rates for the BPA's major customers Northwest public utilities, including Seattle City Light, which have endorsed the agency plan.
"Bonneville is doing the best they can to try to make this work for all parties, and we support this effort," said Steve Kern, of Seattle City Light.
For many wind-power producers, a big part of the payback is collecting tax credits. Those credits couldn't be collected during shutdowns.
They are pressing for alternatives to ship their power to other areas of the U.S. and Canada, and more flexibility to substitute wind power for fossil fuel-generated electricity outside the region, according to Robert Kahn, who represents many of the region's major wind-farm operators.
In a March 31 letter to the BPA, Sen. Jeff Merkley and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, both of Oregon, wrote that the agency proposal could result in "significant economic harm" to wind-power projects and threaten future development.
The pressure appears to have slowed down BPA. The final plan was supposed to be released by April 1 but has now been delayed.
In the years ahead, the BPA will try to develop new options for balancing the system, such as diverting surplus river water inland to help recharge aquifers.
Information from: The Seattle Times, http://www.seattletimes.com
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.