The federal agency that regulates much of the electrical transmission in the Northwest proposed a compromise Tuesday in a dispute with wind producers who were forced to shut down last spring, when heavy runoff produced too much hydroelectric power.
The Bonneville Power Administration, based in Portland, Ore., proposed to pay half the losses incurred by wind power producers that shut down when the extra hydroelectric power is too much for the grid to handle. The cost would be passed on in increased rates for major customers, such as public utilities, the aluminum industry, and federal installations.
"This is an important step toward resolving a Northwest issue in a way that works for the Northwest," BPA Administrator Steve Wright said in a statement. "We're focused on seeking solutions based on regional input that maintain reliability, protect fish and support renewable energy while equitably sharing costs."
The costs could run as high as $50 million a year but were expected to average about $12 million. BPA would bear them through the year and add them to its rate case at the end of the year, splitting the costs between their Federal Base System customers and wind energy producers, said BPA spokesman Doug Johnson. He said there was a 2-in-3 chance that BPA would have to ask wind power producers to shut down this spring.
The proposal was based on months of talks with wind power providers and others.
Wind power generators said the proposal is not good enough.
Erin Greeson, of Renewable Northwest Project, an advocacy group, said wind power producers are willing to bear some of the costs, but only if BPA comes up with a long-term solution to the problem of over-generation, increases flexibility for the grid, and ensures a good business climate for all renewable energy developers.
When wind farms have to shut down, they lose fees for power generation, as well as state and federal incentives, such as tax credits. Bonneville has said the shutdowns amounted to about 6 percent of the wind farms' output between mid-May and mid-July.
Public comments are being taken on the proposal until Feb. 21. There is a March 6 deadline for filing a final proposal ordered by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The deal would run through 2015.
The BPA ordered wind power producers to shut down last spring, saying so much water was flowing down the Columbia River that not enough could be diverted past turbines and over spillways without harming endangered salmon. Young salmon migrating to the ocean in spring can be injured if they encounter high levels of dissolved gases generated by large flows over spillways.
BPA also argued that it could not handle all the excess power on the transmission grid.
Wind power generators complained to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which ordered BPA to come up with new rules that do not discriminate against wind generators. The agency did not order Bonneville to pay wind power generators for their losses.
Many of the wind power producers are utility company subsidiaries that participated in a wind farm boom in recent years encouraged by state and federal incentives.
Save Our Wild Salmon, a conservation group, disputed the idea that salmon would be injured, citing studies finding increased gas levels had little impact on migrating salmon, and that the fish had higher survival levels when flows over spillways were high.