NW Wind Farms Seek End to Springtime Shutdowns

By Beacon Staff

PORTLAND, Ore. – Five wind power companies asked federal regulators Monday to stop the region’s main transmission utility from shutting them down at night.

The wind farm owners want the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to settle a dispute arising from one of the Northwest’s wettest winters and latest springs in decades, and a resulting surplus of hydropower from federal dams.

Since mid-May, the Bonneville Power Administration has been ordering wind farms intermittently to stop delivering electricity, mostly at night when demand is low. That deprives the wind farms of state and federal benefits pegged to production.

The BPA, also a federal agency, says it has little choice given its legal requirement to operate a system of 31 dams in a way that doesn’t endanger threatened salmon.

If water doesn’t go through turbines at the dams, it has to be spilled in ways that can hurt fish.

The wind companies say the BPA has options available to deliver the wind power but won’t use them.

That distorts the energy marketplace, the complaint says, arguing that Bonneville is breaking its transmission contracts and requiring wind developers to unfairly bear the burden.

“Our concern is the core discriminatory treatment,” said Stefan Bird, a senior vice president at PacifiCorp in Portland.

He said the wind farms are losing money both on federal incentives based on production and on contracts to deliver green energy under terms of state rules aimed at creating markets and income for it.

The BPA manages about three-quarters of the region’s transmission lines. The wind companies want Bonneville to pay power generators outside that network to curtail their production, making room for the wind power.

“Bonneville has instead chosen to use its transmission system to promote the economic interests of its primary power customer base,” said the complaint filed in Washington, D.C.

It asks the federal regulators to stop the curtailments and to take steps to ensure open access to the BPA transmission system.

Bonneville argues that paying to make room in the grid would put the burden of making the wind farms whole on its traditional “preference” hydropower customers. Those are public utility districts which have for decades gotten the cheapest rates for the electricity coming from the region’s federal dams.

Both sides said the federal regulators have launched a mediation effort, but confidentiality rules prohibit disclosing whether any progress has been made.

Spokesman Doug Johnson said the BPA is disappointed by the filing, but, “We are still talking.”

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