Bonneville Power Administration Says No to Negative Prices Again

Michael Giberson

The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) Administrator has adopted interim Environmental Redispatch and Negative Pricing Policies to deal with potential overgeneration conditions on the BPA power system. In brief, BPA plans to employ “Environmental Dispatch” rules for operating the power system in a manner conducive to BPA meeting various legal and regulatory constraints; the BPA Negative Pricing Policy is “we won’t allow it.”

Excepts from pages 10-12 of “BPA’s Interim Environmental Redispatch and Negative Pricing Policies: Administrator’s Final Record of Decision,” May 2011, below. I haven’t yet read the 68-page long section “Negative Pricing Policy,” but am adding it to my summer reading plans.


From the BPA report:

The events of early June 2010 illustrate how the increase in wind generation has influenced the ability to manage high flows on the Columbia River. … In early June, however, a strong Pacific jet stream brought storm systems with heavy precipitation and runoff. Snake River streamflows nearly tripled, and Columbia River streamflows nearly doubled. The resulting flows exceeded those needed to meet flow and spill objectives for fish passage. Federal water management staff focus shifted to developing strategies and modifying operations to reduce excess spill and minimize excessive TDG production to the extent practicable.…

During this time, most Northwest thermal generation shut down or reduced to minimum operating levels. These generation owners obtained low-cost or free Federal hydropower to replace thermal generation. Thermal generation normally finds it economical to displace their fuel with lower-cost hydropower since they can store or conserve their fuel while they receive hydropower.

However, due to differing economic considerations, the roughly 3,000 megawatts of wind power projects located in BPA’s Balancing Authority Area did not respond to the availability of free Federal hydropower. Wind power projects cannot store their fuel and are generally eligible to receive Federal Production Tax Credits (PTC) and/or state Renewable Energy Credits (REC). Wind power output ranged from zero to nearly full output, depending on wind conditions….

Unlike thermal operators, wind operators have an economic incentive to operate as much as possible, regardless of system conditions. The PTC is currently $21 per megawatt-hour (“MWh”) and state RECs are generally in the $8 to $20 per MWh range, so this incentive is significant. While all wind power projects are eligible to receive RECs for production, most new wind power projects have opted not to take the PTC and instead opted for the Investment Tax Credit (“ITC”) or other grants that provide up-front financial benefits tied to the cost of the project and not actual production. Wind power projects that opt for the ITC or other grants receive the full financial benefit of these incentives regardless of project output (pp. 11-12).

BPA believes that its statutory responsibilities and the objectives of the Northwest Power Act would be frustrated if BPA were required to pay negative prices in order to ensure compliance with BPA’s environmental responsibilities.

… While one purpose of the Northwest Power Act is to encourage the development of renewable power in the Pacific Northwest through BPA’s acquisition authority, that is one purpose among many that BPA must meet, including assuring the Northwest has an economical power supply, providing environmental quality, continuing to repay the U.S. Treasury on a current basis, and protecting, mitigating and enhancing fish and wildlife of the Columbia River and its tributaries. …

[P]aying negative prices to displace renewable generation to ensure BPA’s environmental responsibilities are met is neither socially optimal nor consistent with traditional principles of cost causation. BPA’s statutory preference customers would end up paying the costs of displacing renewable generation that is currently almost entirely serving the loads of utilities outside of the BPA Balancing Authority Area. The costs of Federal and state production incentives should be borne by a broad group of taxpayers and ratepayers receiving the wind power, not concentrated on smaller subsets of consumers with limited economic interest or benefits from the renewable generation.

Note that about 750 MW of wind capacity has been added to the BPA Balancing Authority Area since June 2010, to a current total of 3522 MW, and “as much as 3,000 MW of additional wind generation expected to come on line in the next few years” according to the report.

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