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Wind Industry, BPA Trade Barbs Over Nonhydro Cutbacks

The wind industry accused the federal Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) Monday of illegal and ill-advised moves in the face of record hydroelectric supplies this spring and summer, and it promised legal action to reverse the current operating decision by the Pacific Northwest's major energy player.

At the first full day of its annual convention in Anaheim, CA, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) accused BPA of ignoring contracts to slash its takes of wind-generated power while thermal generation plants using coal and natural gas were still operating unabated. A Portland, OR-based BPA spokesperson denied the charges, noting that wind supplies were the last nonhydroelectric source to be curtailed.

In response to questions from news media, AWEA's Rob Gramlich, senior vice president for public policy, said there likely will be legal and regulatory filings against BPA, which he alleges has broken the law. "No one is above the law or can break contracts as Bonneville has; commerce cannot exist without contract sanctity," said Gramlich, predicting that the BPA moves to temporarily cut back on its takes of wind power will "chill" investment in the industry.

Both Gramlich and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) contended that BPA had other options and chose to ignore them. Similarly, Northwest advocates for protecting salmon warned that the giant federal power marketer/transporter misstated the situation when it said it traded extra wind power supplies in order to protect the fish in the region.

"BPA is calling this a wind power-vs.-salmon issue, and that is factually wrong," said Pat Ford, executive director of Save Our Wild Salmon. "This is a destructive approach if the goal is finding solutions that work for people, salmon and the West Coast economy."

Sparks between AWEA and BPA have been flying since last Tuesday over the federal regional power giant's interim decision to temporarily limit nonhydroelectric supplies, such as wind and natural gas-produced power, due to the region's record-breaking levels of water (see Daily GPI, May 20). If AWEA is correct, however, the wind sector alone is getting hurt, although that is something BPA maintains is not the case and its data on its website tends to support the agency.

More than a month ago natural gas was already preparing to take a hit, and the region's wind power suppliers knew they were in peril in the face of excess hydroelectric supplies that have caused the Northwest River Forecast Center to predict the highest runoff in more than a decade (see Daily GPI, April 25). BPA could delay no longer a proposal to begin curtailing large chunks of wind power, based on its May 13 action.

For the past seven days up until Tuesday, BPA showed hydroelectric supplies ranging from 11,500 MW to 14,000 MW, while its demand was hovering at the 6,000 MW level. Wind supplies ranged from zero to 2,500 MW (there is a total of 3,500 MW of wind on the BPA system), and thermal supplies ranged from 100 to 500 MW, which is contrary to the impression left by AWEA and its supporters in fighting BPA.

"It is clear BPA is making the call in favor of preference customers at the expense of the emerging sector, such as wind," said Blumenauer. "This is a chilling signal to people who would invest, or loan money, or make the long-term decision to develop wind projects."

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