Bonneville Power Administration Says Northwest Has Too Much Energy; Orders Wind Farms Cut Off Grid

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The massive amount of snow that fell in the Pacific Northwest this winter means more than skiers and snowboarders being able to ride in June. It also means that the region's electricity supply--heavily augmented by hydroelectric power--has more energy than it knows what to do with.

The solution, says the Bonneville Power Administration, is to take wind power off the grid.

This idea may seem sound, since no one likes to waste energy. But as The Atlantic reports, it's not sitting well with regional wind farm owners who are left with no power to sell.

. . . unlike thermal power generators, wind farms lose money in the exchange. When hydropower is so abundant there is little financial gain to producing more, thermal producers save money by conserving fuel. Wind companies, however, have no fuel savings, lose money from power sales, and also lose lucrative federal and state incentives tied to production. As of June 13, wind companies had curtailed 74,114 megawatt hours of power during select overnight hours, worth $1.6 million in production tax credits alone.

A spokesman for BPA says that the decision to cut wind power was "the best balance between bad choices," and that the the agency really had no choice but to do it. BPA also says that the decision was done to protect fish populations which can be hurt by overused dams.

Wind-farm companies like Iberdrola Renewables, which operates around a dozen wind farms in the Pacific Northwest, however, say BPA's decision is not the best, but just the cheapest decision, and that it's shouldered completely on the backs of the wind power industry.

"This is not about fish and wildlife. It's not about renewable energy as much . . . It's really about whether the federal government is going to follow the rules that have been set down by other parts of the federal government. Bonneville is the dominant player in the power market in the Northwest. They own 80 percent of the transmission system. And they are using their control of the transmission system to gain an advantage for their power generation. That's what we're saying is not okay," [Don Furman, senior vice president of external affairs at Iberdrola Renewables] said.

The issue has caught the attention of Congress and Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley and Rep. Earl Blumenauer are asking U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu to step in and prod BPA toward reassessing its decision.

That's if the wind companies can't prove that BPA never had the authority to make the decision in the first place.

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