BPA proposes suspending excess wind power

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by GARY CHITTIM / KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on April 13, 2011 at 4:05 PM

Updated Wednesday, Apr 13 at 5:24 PM

SEATTLE -- The wet winter and spring has left so much snow in the mountains that the region's hydro-electric dams have more water passing through their turbines than it needs.

To prevent an energy overflow, the Bonneville Power Administration is considering forcing some producers of renewable wind energy to shut down.

The BPA has long been the king of cheap power and operates most of the regional power grid, so it has the juice to make that decision. But wind producers say forcing them offline will cost them plenty and is not the way to encouraging a blossoming Northwest wind energy industry. They suggest it's time to take a hard look at the grid. That dependable system has faithfully fueled our energy needs for decades, but was not built to handle the booming renewable energy industry.

"Focusing only on curtailing the wind industry will be insufficient and we need a broader scope," said Nancy Hirsh of The Northwest Energy Coalition.

"The physical infrastructure needs to expand to enable more flow of energy out of wind rich areas into areas still burning coal or thermal generation," said Kevin Smith, engineer with Wind Energy Consultant DNV.

BPA agrees the grid needs to be outfitted for a new generation of energy producers including wind, solar and geothermal, said Bonneville spokesman Doug Johnson. He said the BPA is reluctant to shut down wind operations and would only do so as a last resort.

In any case it appears an upgrade is in order. The question still blowing across the region is, "Who will pay for it?"

This story was first reported by The Seattle Times.

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