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Category — Pacific Northwest

Northwest Windpower: Problems Aplenty

Sharp increases in windpower output on the Pacific Northwest electricity grid has lead to a number of problems. This has fallen into the lap of the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), the Pacific Northwest federal power marketing authority that must integrate the large influx of wind energy into the electricity grid.

In 1998, the BPA’s wind generation was roughly 25 megawatts (MW). Today, it totals 2,780 MW and, with the Oregon Renewable Portfolio Standards passed in 2007, over 6,000 MW of wind power is expected to be on-line by 2013. Often overlooked are the impacts of increasing wind generation on the reliability and affordability of electricity that might very well outweigh any of the environmental benefits that are proclaimed to exist.

The negative aspects of wind are quite apparent. Obviously, wind is unpredictable and inconsistent, creating a significant problem for BPA and electric utilities. To prevent brownouts or overloads on the grid, BPA has to schedule energy production in advance and the ability to predict when and how hard the wind will blow is extremely limited (usually a two or three day window) and is often inaccurate.

Because wind power is so unpredictable, every MW must be backed up by an equal amount from reliable, reserve energy sources to replace the energy lost when the wind dies down. This means BPA must have a “balancing” reserve equal to or greater than the wind power capacity utilized at any given time. In the Pacific Northwest the backup source has traditionally been federally owned hydroelectric dams, which are shut on and off to respond to fluctuations in wind energy. [Read more →]

July 22, 2010   33 Comments