In May, the Bonneville Power Administration, a major power provider in the Pacific Northwest, ordered many of the region’s wind power producers to shut down generation for several hours a day to make room on the grid for a surplus of hydropower created by heavy rains and significant snowpack melt.
The order came as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers increased river flows to maintain space in upstream reservoirs for further runoff from the largest Northwest snowpack since 1997. The Northwest River Forecast Center projects Columbia Basin runoff this year will exceed runoff in all but two of the last 40 years.
BPA had two choices: It could dial down generation from its hydropower plants and spill the excess water over dams, threatening endangered salmon; or, it could use the surplus water to generate clean, reliable, low-cost electricity.
BPA said it could not simply spill the large amounts of water behind its dams due to laws protecting salmon. Diverting the water through spillways would have raised dissolved gases in the water to deadly levels for salmon passing through the spillway, BPA said. Instead, the surplus water supplies were used to generate hydropower for customers in the Pacific Northwest.
BPA made the right and responsible choice for its customers.
Using hydropower instead of wind power to balance load made the most sense because of the higher cost of wind power, the intermittent nature of wind power and an obligation to abide by laws designed to protect endangered salmon. What’s more, hydropower is a more predictable and dependable source of generation.
It’s time that wind power producers bear more responsibility for maintaining a reliable grid. To achieve this, they should consider negotiating a curtailment clause into their contracts to avoid future conflicts.
Right now, though, wind power producers are more interested in defeating the precedent set by BPA, which could diminish the strength of their contracts to provide power. Much is at stake. The outcome could affect the level of renewable energy development in the U.S., especially in the Northwest.
The wind power industry said BPA’s decision to suppress nearly 100,000 MW of wind power in favor of its own hydropower generation cost wind power producers millions of dollars in broken contracts and lost tax credits. The industry has threatened to sue to recover the lost revenues.
One thing is certain: Without a strong water management/integration plan designed to maximize power generation when it’s needed, it will become increasingly difficult for power providers in the west to meet demand.
Water resource management will be a major topic of discussion during HydroVision International 2012 in Louisville, Ky., where experts in water management, planning and use will gather for seven panel discussions on a wide range of water resource issues.
For more information about HydroVision International 2012, scheduled July 17-20 in Louisville, Ky., go to www.hydroevent.com.
Russell Ray is Senior Editor of Hydro Review magazine and Conference Committee Chairman of HydroVision International. Russell has 12 years experience as an energy journalist, covering the oil and gas industry in Oklahoma and the growth of solar and nuclear power in Florida. He served eight years as the energy reporter for the Tulsa World. He held the same position at the Tampa Tribune for two and a half years before joining Hydro Review in 2009.
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