Federal regulators gave the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) a stinging slap in the kisser yesterday, ruling that BPA acted unfairly in shutting off wind power this past spring when high flows on Pacific Northwest rivers gave it more electricity than it said it needed. BPA’s action was opposed by wind generators, led by Portland, Ore.-based Iberdrola Renewables, many of whom lost federal production tax credits and state renewable energy certificates when their turbines were shut down and who worried that BPA’s policy could set a precedent that would stifle future support for the industry in the region.
In the ruling [PDF], the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) said the “Environmental Redispatch Policy” employed by Bonneville when it had excess power – pulling the plug on the turbines and sending its own hydroelectric power to the wind generators’ customers – “significantly diminishes open access to transmission.” The agency gave BPA 90 days to come up with a better way.
BPA sells power from dozens of federal hydro projects in the Northwest, and it runs the transmission lines in the region. It argued that it had no choice but to ditch wind when the rivers ran high from late-spring runoff. Spilling the water, BPA said, could have resulted in an increase of total dissolved gas levels in the water, endangering salmon in potential violation of the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act.
Wind producers rejected that argument, and cited support from the group Save Our Wild Salmon to back up their claim that BPA wasn’t protecting salmon but was simply protecting its own economic interests with the Redispatch Policy.
“BPA’s policy, as we saw this past spring, was keeping prices higher for the power it was selling into the wholesale market – not protecting fish or maintaining reliability,” Don Furman, senior vice president of Iberdrola Renewables, said in a statement. “FERC’s ruling will stop this and other discriminatory practices, and allow all energy producers to compete on a level playing field.”
The wind generators and their supporters argued to FERC that BPA had a number of better options, chief among them “negative pricing” – paying generators to back down and take BPA’s power. As the Oregon Public Utilities Commission wrote in a brief [PDF] supporting the wind generators, “Instead of using pricing and the market to dispose of the surplus power in the most efficient and effective manner possible, Bonneville unilaterally curtails generation from wind generators interconnected to its system.”