BPA decision may prompt wind shutdown soon

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A decision by the Bonneville Power Administration could shut down Northwest wind farms as early as this week.

A decision by the Bonneville Power Administration could shut down Northwest wind farms as early as this week.

The Bonneville Power Administration will stick to a plan to curtail wind power in response to high water levels in the hydro system, at least for now.

With snow pack melting fast and warm weather on the way, the decision could come at a cost of $50 million or more to wind developers — which may have to shut down wind turbines as early as this week — and may land in court.

BPA’s decision responds to a power phenomenon known as overgeneration, which occurs when spring runoff surges through the Federal Columbia River Power System and puts more hydropower on the grid than energy consumers can use. BPA is charged with managing the power supply to meet demand, which keeps energy prices stable, along with power delivery.

The agency must find ways to slow energy production or curtail it when there is more power produced than can be sold during high-water events. Spilling water isn’t always an option because the force of falling water creates bubbles that dissolve as gas in waterways, causing harm to fish and violating the Clean Water Act.

BPA is anticipating record water levels this spring and suffered an overgeneration event in June 2010 in which BPA struggled to balance 3,400 megawatt-hours of new wind capacity that had come online since 2005. This year, BPA proposed a new strategy aimed at lowering power production at federal dams by storing water, then asking natural gas, nuclear and coal producers to power down. It also suggested wind farms should come offline if those measures weren’t enough, a move the administration estimated would cost wind developers $50 million through lost power sales and unearned state and federal tax credits tied to production.

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Lee van der Voo, lvdvoo*at*gmail.com, is a freelance writer for Sustainable Business Oregon.

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