Wind Roars To Record 4,039 MW In Northwest

Wind power has not always had an easy time making it onto a Pacific Northwest grid dominated by hydropower. But late in the afternoon on March 11, the turbines, mostly clustered near that wind tunnel called the Columbia River Gorge, spun fast and furious and grid operators found room for a record 4,039 megawatts (MW).

How much is 4,039 MW? More than double the energy that the coal, gas and nuclear plants connected to the Bonneville Power Administration system were providing at the time, BPA said.

BPA wind grid

image via Bonneville Power Administration

For BPA, which owns and operates three-quarters of the Northwest’s high voltage transmission, the news offered the welcome opportunity to show itself as wind-friendly after months of conflict with wind producers over access to the grid.

In addition to controlling most of the transmission in the region, BPA sells power from dozens of federal hydro projects in the Northwest, and it has faced claims of favoring its own power sources over wind. Last December, federal regulators said BPA acted unfairly in shutting off wind power in spring 2011 when a big snowmelt gave it more electricity than the agency said it needed.

BPA’s action then 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.

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.