Northwest power surplus may halt wind energy

May 14, 2011 By TIM FOUGHT , Associated Press
In this photo taken Thursday, May 12, 2011, shows wind turbines along the Columbia River Gorge near Goldendale, Wash. The manager of most of the electricity in the Pacific Northwest is running such a surplus of power from hydroelectric dams that it put wind farms on notice Friday they may be shut down as early as this weekend. A cold, wet spring in the headwaters of the Columbia River Basin is sending downstream one of the largest spring flows in years. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

(AP) -- The manager of most of the electricity in the Pacific Northwest is running such a surplus of power from hydroelectric dams that it put wind farms on notice Friday that they may be shut down as early as this weekend.

The Bonneville Administration has more than enough electricity during a cold, wet spring that has created a big surge in river flows where are located. The agency responded by announcing its intentions to curtail wind power until the grid has more capacity, in a move likely to cost the industry millions of dollars.

The decision reflects an overlooked issue amid the push to add wind farms around the country: The capacity of has not kept pace.

How soon and low long wind farms might be shut down depends on how quickly the region warms up and the water shoots downriver to the Pacific Ocean, said Steven Wright, administrator of the BPA. The farms that would be shut down are mostly in Washington and Oregon.

The main culprit for the wind slowdown is spring weather that followed a winter with heavy snow in the mountains feeding the basin. The spring surge is expected to be the largest since 1997.

When water levels are this high, the agency said, it has no choice but to use the water to generate electricity in hydroelectric dams. Laws protecting endangered species prevent it from sending all the excess water through spillways and around the dams. That beats up salmon and steelhead. It also creates so much bubbling in the water that the fish get the equivalent of the bends.

Grid operators say they have run out of capability to sell the surplus electricity, store the water or shut down gas, oil, and - leaving wind farms the unfortunate victim.

The financing of many wind farms relies on tax credits that are of benefit only if electricity is produced. And the decision could set the stage for even more significant fights in the years to come if the Northwest wind industry doubles its capacity, as projected, over the next decade.

Major wind interests, including mainstream utilities such as Portland General Electric, have opposed the BPA's proposal and are suggesting lawsuits are next. The utility says the move could violate antitrust and market manipulation laws.

The critics also noted that President Barack Obama and Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who reappointed Wright just last year, have been staunch advocates of alternative energy such as wind power.

Salmon advocates also lined up with the wind industry out of solidarity between two groups with a long history of common environmental interests.

"It is strange how a federal agency could make this kind of decision," said Nicole Cordan of Save Our Wild Salmon. She and other critics said the BPA hadn't explored enough options. The BPA said those options would cost its traditional customers, such as public power districts, extra.

No good estimates were immediately available of what wind developers stand to lose. BPA projections earlier this year showed that curtailing wind power over a three-month period, in a worst-case scenario, could cost them as much as $50 million.

The action reflects difficulty in integrating the young wind industry into a power grid that dates to the Northwest dam-building campaign that began in the Depression and kicked into high gear after World War II.

In the past decade, state and federal governments have encouraged wind farms by requiring utility companies to obtain larger amounts of power from renewable sources and by granting tax credits. But power grid capacity hasn't enjoyed a similar expansion.

Wright said developed faster than he expected, given the severity of the recession, and regional interests have failed to find ways around the problem, leading him to realize only a few months ago that such a shutdown was likely.

"We're talking about a surplus of low-cost, carbon-free energy, and it just seemed to me there would be a solution," he said.

As it happens, the impact of the shutdown would hit hardest along the river, which cuts a famous gorge and forms something of a wind tunnel ideal for the hundreds of white turbine towers standing like pickets on the bluffs above. The capacity of the generators varies, but some are rated at up to 2 megawatts - the BPA estimates 1 megawatt can power about 700 typical homes.

Among the states, Oregon and Washington rank Nos. 4 and 5, respectively, in the amount of wind power capacity deployed, according to the most recent rankings of the American Wind Energy Association.

The Bonneville Power Administration handles about three-quarters of the Northwest's transmission and has long dealt with high water in the spring.

Coal- and gas-fired energy plants often schedule downtime for maintenance in the spring to allow electricity generators at dams to produce more. That was the rationale for the current shutdown of the Northwest's only commercial nuclear plant, at the Hanford nuclear reservation, for refueling and maintenance.

Last year, a spring storm sent a surge of wind power into the Northwest grid, and operators feverishly made adjustments.

The Bonneville Power Administration is a self-financed federal enterprise that manages three-quarters of the electrical transmission in the Northwest and sells power from 31 dams and the nuclear plant, accounting for about a third of the supply in the Northwest. Its area includes parts of eight western states.

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letstakeawalk42
5 / 5 (1) May 14, 2011
Sounds like an ideal opportunity to implement some wind-to-hydrogen infrastructure.
ryggesogn2
2.5 / 5 (11) May 14, 2011
Another unintended consequence of socialism.
John_Taylor
3.7 / 5 (3) May 14, 2011
they have run out of capability to sell the surplus electricity, store the water or shut down gas, oil, and nuclear plants
... somehow, I doubt that they cannot shut down the gas and oil fired power plants. I have a very suspicious feeling that wind farms just don't have the same level of political clout.
What is necessary however, is a better interconnected infrastructure that is able to move excess power to areas of need. Green power depends on being strongly interconnected.
ekim
3.3 / 5 (4) May 14, 2011
Another unintended consequence of socialism.

Sounds more like an unintended consequence of capitalism.
These wind farms were created to produce a profit.
Supply has exceeded demand reducing profits.
...in a worst-case scenario, could cost them as much as $50 million.


FrankHerbert
0.8 / 5 (51) May 14, 2011
Another unintended consequence of socialism.


Much like your posting.
rinardman
5 / 5 (3) May 14, 2011
Have they thought about reversing the flow of electricity to the wind generators, turning them into big fans that would help cool the earth and reduce Global Warming?

(and for the overly serious, that's sarcasm)

*
ryggesogn2
2.1 / 5 (7) May 14, 2011
Another unintended consequence of socialism.

Sounds more like an unintended consequence of capitalism.
These wind farms were created to produce a profit.
Supply has exceeded demand reducing profits.
...in a worst-case scenario, could cost them as much as $50 million.



"The financing of many wind farms relies on tax credits "
"In the past decade, state and federal governments have encouraged wind farms by requiring utility companies to obtain larger amounts of power from renewable sources and by granting tax credits."
"When water levels are this high, the agency said, it has no choice but to use the water to generate electricity in hydroelectric dams. Laws protecting endangered species prevent it from sending all the excess water through spillways and around the dams."

Where is a free market here?
NotParker
2.6 / 5 (5) May 14, 2011
The PDO switched a couple of years ago. Cold and wet is predicted for the next 18-28 years (PDO switches usually last 20-30 years).

PDO: http://en.wikiped...illation
Chimacintosh
1 / 5 (1) May 14, 2011
Doesn't this strike anyone as a tremendous waste? All the time, money and resources invested in that wind power and they are being wasted. Why not think out of the box on this? I can see a number of choices.
1. Give customers free electricity when you have a surplus like this. The goodwill it will generate might increase their appetite for power.
2. If they get used to higher levels of power, that might continue after the free period of electricity is over. Even a week of free electricity might "reset" people use of it.
3. Offer subsides of your biggest clients to store power at their location. Offer the ability for them to "sell back" power if they take on the cost of power storage. This effectively makes the power grid more of a peer-peer arrangement.
4. Offer grants to universities and think tanks to crack the superconducting at room temperature problem. If you solved this you could always find a customer for your power.

Why do people think so short sightedly?
Regards,
Chimac
NotParker
2.3 / 5 (3) May 14, 2011
... somehow, I doubt that they cannot shut down the gas and oil fired power plants.


They can't. Wind is so variable there must be a reliable baseline of power or there will be blackouts if the wind dies down. Coal plants can't spin up instantly. But wind can spin DOWN almost instantly.

(Oil is rarely used in power plants. Coal is #1)

retrosurf
3.3 / 5 (4) May 14, 2011
If you waited for capitalism to build the power grid, you'd
still be waiting. If you waited for capitalism to build the
damns on the Columbia River, you'd still be waiting. If you
waited for capitalism to build the nuclear power plants, you'd
still be waiting.

All that work has been socialism: government money for the
very significant public good. All of those things rely on the
initial government contracts that created them. Nuclear power
plants can only exist commercially because the US government
provides insurance in the event that you fukushima your reactor.

One problem with the power grids built for the public good is
that they serve only the regions they were built in. They
were not designed to serve markets for power across the nation. Northwestern power has a hard time getting to California.

Don't worry about this wet, wet year. There will be dry years
in the future, and the windfarms will still be there. Maybe a
coal plant could be mothballed.
mrlewish
5 / 5 (1) May 14, 2011
Apparently the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) is so incompetent as to not build enough transmission lines to so they can move the power out of state if needed. This would have been a great opportunity to sell surplus power at a good profit. I suspect that this also bodes bad for them. because if conditions change and there is a shortage of power locally they probably can't transmit enough from a place that has a surplus. Again bad for business.
Eikka
5 / 5 (2) May 14, 2011

One problem with the power grids built for the public good is
that they serve only the regions they were built in. They
were not designed to serve markets for power across the nation. Northwestern power has a hard time getting to California.


There's a very good reason to that. AC lines leak - they lose electricity through capacitive coupling, and as the line gets longer, it starts to radiate energy like a very large radio antenna.

To keep the energy loss at an acceptable level, power should be generated less than 300 miles from the point where it's used, even though you could theoretically transmit power over 1000 miles away.

So that's why, when you transmit power over long distances, the power plants operate like dominoes. One helps the other, which helps the second, which helps the third. The maximum amount of power you can put through the chain depends on the weakest link in the chain.
ironjustice
1 / 5 (1) May 14, 2011
They should couple that "excess power" with the worlds' largest fungus and feed the world with mushrooms. No more "ugly American" .

"Strange but True: The Largest Organism on Earth Is a Fungus
The blue whale is big, but nowhere near as huge as a sprawling fungus in eastern Oregon"
"Occupies some 2,384 acres (965 hectares) of soil in Oregon's Blue Mountains. Put another way, this humongous fungus would encompass 1,665 football fields, or nearly four square miles (10 square kilometers) of turf."
Eikka
not rated yet May 14, 2011
When you think about where wind power fits in that chain, it really doesn't, since it cannot be controlled. If you want to transmit wind power from the west coast to the east coast of the US, you better make sure there are no wind farms in the middle.

Wind power needs its own dedicated infrastructure of HVDC lines across the nation, but who's going to build them? There's also the problem because DC transmission has active running costs because of the energy needed to operate the switching electronics, which can even consume more power than is being transmitted during low power operation.
Elissa
1 / 5 (1) May 14, 2011
Not enuf political clout is correct. I know very little about the inner workings of the wind farms, but to shut them down? There HAS to be alternative solutions to re-direct this energy. It just doesn't make sense, it just doesn't add up. It's just not right.
jmlvu
5 / 5 (1) May 14, 2011
With a glut in power you would expect a drop in the price. There are server farms (Google and Facebook) and an aluminum smelter in the Gorge that could expand if the price wasn't monopolized by the BPA. Certainly coal and gas fired plants can be spun down in three months time. This is about a monopoly deciding making a move on the wind farms. I plan to write the president and senate to stop this.
jshloram
not rated yet May 14, 2011
How about lowering the price of electricity to stimulate demand! What'a concept!
Eikka
5 / 5 (1) May 14, 2011
There HAS to be alternative solutions to re-direct this energy. It just doesn't make sense, it just doesn't add up. It's just not right.


Wind power needs both positive and negative reserve. Positive means input when the wind isn't blowing but power is needed, and negative means shutting down other powerplants when the wind blows.

Hydro power is used for both positive and negative reserve in the grid, but now that the dams are full and more water is coming upstream, they're basically running at full tilt and cannot be used to buffer wind power or any other power.

So, the alternative is to start to throttle coal and nuclear power, but they cannot be throttled fast enough.

The third alternative is to turn down coal and nuclear, and bring a lot of gas turbines and diesel/oil generators online. That would cost about 50x more and waste a ton of fuel, negating the point of using the wind power.

Eikka
not rated yet May 14, 2011
How about lowering the price of electricity to stimulate demand! What'a concept!


Doesn't solve the actual problem. Without the ability to adjust for the power, nobody can use the wind energy anyways.

On the average, it takes roughly 75% of fast adjustable power to fit 25% of wind power in the mix, so you'd need four times the wind's worth of extra demand, and you'd need to generate 3/4 of that using gas and oil which is expensive.

Plus, what happens when the water eventually runs out and returns to normal flow?
ryggesogn2
2 / 5 (8) May 14, 2011
Capitalism started the first power grid:
"In 1895, the Niagara Falls Power Company began placing contracts with the Westinghouse Company for long distance electric transmission development and implementation. It included the building of transformers that could handle 1,250 horsepower and the stringing of overhead wires capable of transmitting 11,000 volts."
http://www.niagar...ml#Adams
Eikka
not rated yet May 14, 2011
The important thing here is to understand what the wind power's role is in the grid.

Since we don't have any way to store large amounts of wind energy anywhere, not even in hydroelectric dams because the dams are still relatively small, it means that wind power cannot be used to meet any demand.

It's role is to substitute other power when it is available. That's the only way we can use it. Now that the circumstances don't permit us to turn down that other power, we cannot use the wind power.

Building long distance transmission lines is just first aid, and very expensive at that, and it doesn't necessarily even work all the time. What ultimately needs to be done is developing massive scale Grid Energy Storage that can suck up months of surplus power production.
Eikka
5 / 5 (2) May 14, 2011
In northern Europe, it's not uncommon to have electricity spot prices go negative because of force feeding wind power by government order.

That means the companies that produce power have to pay somebody to accept the electricity that they are producing. Yet this doesn't show up in the consumers' electricity bill, because they buy their electricity indirectly at a fixed price.

But the people who produce wind power still turn a profit because the government subsidies are higher than the price they have to pay to push the power into the grid.

Technically, it would be possible to start a company that does nothing but heat seawater with huge resistors, and get paid to waste energy.
ryggesogn2
2 / 5 (8) May 14, 2011
Technically, it would be possible to start a company that does nothing but heat seawater with huge resistors, and get paid to waste energy.

Only in a socialist economy.
Eikka
5 / 5 (2) May 14, 2011
Technically, it would be possible to start a company that does nothing but heat seawater with huge resistors, and get paid to waste energy.

Only in a socialist economy.


It's quite a free market. It operates like the stock market with power companies selling and buying power at minute intervals.

The only problem is this market failure, wind power, that drives everything off because you have to let it in, even though it doesn't behave nicely and it costs everybody money, and it doesn't really contribute much anything to the total energy balance.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (4) May 14, 2011
you have to let it in,

Then it is NOT free.
Eikka
not rated yet May 15, 2011
you have to let it in,

Then it is NOT free.


Think of it this way: the governments are buying wind power from the companies through subsidizing it.

Negative prices can occur naturally sometimes when there's momentary overproduction due to shifts in consumption patterns, and it's the driving signal that makes it possible to have a grid where the operators come from multiple companies in multiple nations in a patchwork of a grid. When the spot prices fall below what you want to sell, you reduce output and the prices rise up again to reflect supply and demand.

Normally the price mechanism would stop overproduction, but since wind power is being paid regardless, they simply keep producing despite having to pay to do so, because it costs them less than what they gain. The market is still free, but one of the players isn't following the rules.

Companies with both wind and hydro can regulate wind output and play nice. The problem is those with only wind power.
Eikka
not rated yet May 15, 2011
Like I said, in this price mechanism it would be technically possible to found a company that wastes electricity by heating seawater when the prices turn negative. In essence, you would be paid to deal with the excess production.

What would be more intelligent is to found a company that hoovers up the energy at negative spot prices, and then returns it back to the grid at a profit. There's so much gain to be made in selling peak power that you don't even have to dip into negative prices - you can buy power when the prices are still positive and still turn a nice profit, because the spot prices can jump up 500x when there's a bad shortage.

Unfortunately this is not feasible or cost-effective at a large-enough scale with current technology. If it was, they would have done so already and solved the whole wind power problem.
Eikka
not rated yet May 15, 2011
One of the flaws in the system is the so called windfall profits.

When you have company that can produce 1000 MW and no more, but the demand is 1200 MW, then another company steps up and says "I can sell you that 200 MW if the price is 2x higher", so the price jumps up and the first company also makes the same profit for the electricity they sell to the market.

The irony is that this first company is a nuclear power company that is prohibited from building more reactors by the politicians and the public.

And then they all complain when nuclear power gets huge windfall profits. Well duh, if you just let them build, they would be able to do the 1200 MW and the second company would have to compete in price with them, leading to lower prices.
ryggesogn2
1.6 / 5 (7) May 15, 2011
the governments are buying wind power from the companies through subsidizing it.

We agree, the problem is caused by govt regulations, aka socialism.
Govts caused the rolling blackouts in CA 10 years ago by changing regulation, not de-regulating as popularly believed.
NotParker
2.3 / 5 (3) May 15, 2011
If you waited for capitalism to build the
damns on the Columbia River, you'd still be waiting.


The Columbia River dams were a flood control project with power as a benefit.

"The Canadian and U.S. governments agreed in 1944 to begin studies for potential future joint development of dams in the Columbia River basin. Planning efforts were slow until a 1948 Columbia River flood caused extensive damage from Trail, British Columbia, to Cathlamet, Washington, and completely destroyed Vanport, the second largest city in Oregon. The increased interest in flood protection, and the growing need for power development, initiated 11 years of discussions and alternative proposals for construction of dams in Canada. In 1959, the governments issued a report that recommended principles for negotiating an agreement and apportioning the costs and benefits."
holoman
1 / 5 (2) May 15, 2011
Hydroelectric Lobbying Propaganda.
Bob_B
3 / 5 (2) May 22, 2011
This is terrorist propaganda. The utility companies in the USA are for-profit corporations. Too much supply means they would have to lower the price. Too little supply and you can keep the price artificially high.

When real people cheat real people the courts get involved.
When corporate "people" (as defined by the USA Supreme Court) cheat real people the courts are never involved. Profits are what "we love or leave" as the saying goes. War is great business for them...we're still there and sending more equipment that will never return. I wish I didn't have to type that last part, sorry. The people are more important.
ryggesogn2
1.7 / 5 (6) May 22, 2011
The price of electric power is controlled by state public utility agencies.
Skeptic_Heretic
1 / 5 (1) May 22, 2011
The price of electric power is controlled by state public utility agencies.

No, it is limit bound, not regulated.
GSwift7
1 / 5 (1) May 27, 2011
Eikka has had some really good and thorough posts in the thread. Far too much to quote in order to highlight them. Nice posts though. You seem to have a good grasp of the technical problems the BPA faces.

NotParker had some good things to say as well. I would like to add to his post where he said:

They can't. Wind is so variable there must be a reliable baseline of power or there will be blackouts if the wind dies down.


He's talking about how you can't shut down all the coal/oil/gas plants. I would like to add that even without variable wind power, there are fluxuations in line load. There are small to medium sized power plants in the grids which are designed to help with load leveling. You can't just shut those down. There are spikes in demand from consumers according to time of day and such. For example, when everybody is getting up in the morning and getting ready for work there's a 'rush hour' for power just like there is with trafic.
GSwift7
1 / 5 (1) May 27, 2011
continued:

As pointed out above, there's a diminishing return on long transmission lines. The wind mills they are talking about feathering are the ones closest to the hydro dams. Those areas would not be serviced by many coal/oil/gas plants. It doesn't do any good to close a coal plant that's 1000 miles away (unless there's wind power there too :) ). There's also choke points in grids that limit the amount of power you can transmit. Different areas use different voltage/fequency, so you need special facilities to convert. Japan is having that problem now because they don't have enough capacity at those choke points to get power from other regions into the damaged area.

Also, there are rural areas that run gas and oil plants in farming co-ops to suplement areas that are not well-connected to the main grids. You can't shut those down either, because there's no alternative source.
GSwift7
1 / 5 (1) May 27, 2011
The price of electric power is controlled by state public utility agencies.

No, it is limit bound, not regulated


Doesn't that vary from State to State? I know there was a vote here in the SC State Senate over a planned rate increase recently.
Skeptic_Heretic
not rated yet May 27, 2011
Doesn't that vary from State to State? I know there was a vote here in the SC State Senate over a planned rate increase recently.
Still only an upper limit boundary. Companies can sell as cheaply as they prefer.
GSwift7
2 / 5 (4) May 27, 2011
That's a good point.

I also have to admit that I fell into the falacy of comparing consumer rates to exchange rates between producers and distributors.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (2) May 28, 2011
As I have said, companies petition the govt for protection from competition. Why do govt do it?
"From 1879 to 1907 electric utilities were not subjected to any
price regulation. They were required to obtain operating franchises from municipalities, but the literature of the day described an era of free competition in which municipalities granted
franchises to many who applied. It was the industry itself, whose profits suffered from open
entry, that vigorously lobbied for entry restrictions and for state regulation of prices and profits."
"the effect of regulation during the early period was to increase prices and profits and to reduce output."
http://www.iser.u..._96b.pdf
Fortunately the trend is toward a competitive energy market.