BPA still won’t pay negative prices to get wind power producers to curtail

Michael Giberson

From the Eugene, Oregon Register-Guard, “Critics say BPA drops ball while juggling its power“:

So much electricity flooded Pacific Northwest powerlines last spring — thanks to rainy, stormy weather powering hydroelectric and wind turbines — that this spring, a federal agency wants the option of turning off wind turbines to keep the system from overloading.

The Bonneville Power Administration — which sells power from its hydro dams in the Columbia basin and regulates the power grid in the Pacific Northwest — has written a new policy that would allow it to shut down investor-owned wind turbines if high winds and high water produce more power than people need.

Bonneville has been working on the proposal since last June, when for three weeks the electricity produced in the Pacific Northwest exceeded the demand thanks to storms that increased the flow of water in the rivers and kept windmills spinning. To deal with the excess, Bonneville offered free hydropower to area natural gas and coal-burning utilities if they would temporarily shut down their air-polluting power plants.

Wind power generators balked at accepting that free power and putting the brakes on their windmills, because that would have deprived them of federal and state incentives, money they only get when the windmills are turning.

This year, Bonneville wants the option of shutting down wind and says its power contracts allow it to do so. It says that would only be done in rare cases and when other measures, such as briefly shutting coal and natural gas plants, won’t balance the system.

“It is an option of last resort,” said BPA spokesman Doug Johnson.

But Bonneville’s idea has drawn criticism, both from renewable energy supporters who want to see more wind power on the grid, and from environmental advocates, who say that if the BPA has too much power, it should reduce use of hydro turbines and instead spill unneeded water over dams in order to help imperiled fish species. Juvenile salmon and steelhead swimming downstream survive a trip over the dams better than going through power turbines.

A public comment period about the new policy closes today. Bonneville expects to finalize its decision by early April.

The story continues with background on wind power growth in the area, more on the dam-fish interactions, and BPA’s role in the region. One thing that federal power agency BPA is adamant about is money, they still need it:

What does all this mean for the pocketbooks of ratepayers whose local utilities — such as Eugene Water & Electric Board, Lane Electric Cooperative and Emerald Peoples Utility District — have long-term contracts to buy BPA power?

The excess energy during one part of the year will not translate into lower monthly bills for consumers, Johnson said. Bonneville still needs all the money it gets from local utilities, in order to upgrade its aging hydropower infrastructure.

“We’ve got this convergence of a drop in secondary revenue (from sales of power on the open market) and an ambitious program to keep these assets in good shape,” Johnson said.

Come hell or high water, the BPA “still needs all the money it gets.” Seems like the “me first” attitude of a monopolist.

NOTE: See also January’s “BPA won’t pay negative prices to get wind power producers to curtail” post.

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One thought on “BPA still won’t pay negative prices to get wind power producers to curtail

  1. Yes, but the wind mill owners are just pigs trying to keep their snouts in the public trough. I have no sympathy for them at all.

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