Wind Farms In Pacific Northwest May Shut Down Due To Power Surplus


From Huffington Post – May 13, 2011

by Tim Fought

PORTLAND, Ore. — The manager of most of the electricity in the
Pacific Northwest is running such a surplus of power from hydroelectric
dams that it put wind farms on notice Friday that they may be shut down
as early as this weekend.

The Bonneville Power Administration has more than enough electricity
during a cold, wet spring that has created a big surge in river flows
where hydroelectric dams are located. The agency responded by announcing
its intentions to curtail wind power until the grid has more capacity,
in a move likely to cost the industry millions of dollars.

The decision reflects an overlooked issue amid the push to
add wind farms around the country: The capacity of power grids has not
kept pace.

How soon and low long wind farms might be shut down depends on how
quickly the region warms up and the water shoots downriver to the
Pacific Ocean, said Steven Wright, administrator of the BPA. The farms
that would be shut down are mostly in Washington and Oregon.

The main culprit for the wind slowdown is spring weather that
followed a winter with heavy snow in the mountains feeding the Columbia
River basin. The spring surge is expected to be the largest since 1997.

When water levels are this high, the agency said, it has no choice
but to use the water to generate electricity in hydroelectric dams. Laws
protecting endangered species prevent it from sending all the excess
water through spillways and around the dams. That beats up salmon and
steelhead. It also creates so much nitrogen gas bubbling in the water
that the fish get the equivalent of the bends.

Grid operators say they have run out of capability to sell the
surplus electricity, store the water or shut down gas, oil, and nuclear
plants – leaving wind farms the unfortunate victim.

The financing of many wind farms relies on tax credits that are of
benefit only if electricity is produced. And the decision could set the
stage for even more significant fights in the years to come if the
Northwest wind industry doubles its capacity, as projected, over the
next decade.

Major wind interests, including mainstream utilities such as Portland
General Electric, have opposed the BPA’s proposal and are suggesting
lawsuits are next. The utility says the move could violate antitrust and
market manipulation laws.

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About Damien Gillis

Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues - especially relating to water, energy, and saving Canada's wild salmon - working with many environmental organizations in BC and around the world. He is the co-founder, along with Rafe Mair, of The Common Sense Canadian, and a board member of both the BC Environmental Network and the Haig-Brown Institute.