Hydro, Wind Power Seek Peace In Northwest

The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), stung by a federal regulatory ruling regarding its treatment of Northwest wind power producers, is proposing new measures—including splitting the cost for lost revenue—to mollify the wind producers when an overabundance of hydroelectric power leads BPA to curtail the wind turbines in the region.

BPA sells power from dozens of federal hydro projects in the Northwest, and it controls most of the transmission lines in the region. Federal regulators in December said BPA acted unfairly in shutting off wind power in spring 2011 when a big snowmelt 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.

wind power pacific northwest hydro bpa

image via Shutterstock

BPA has said that spilling its surplus water 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.

Under the new proposal, BPA said it would “spill water up to dissolved gas limits.” Then, the agency said, it would try to induce thermal and other power plant operators to dial back their own production by offering low-cost or free hydropower “with the expectation that many would voluntarily reduce their generation to save fuel costs.”

If all that doesn’t do the trick, BPA said it “would then reduce the output of remaining generation within its system, including wind energy, in order of least cost. BPA would compensate the affected generation for lost revenues, including renewable energy credits and production tax credits, subject to audit.”

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.