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BPA to Use Hydropower as Wind Farm Backup

by Chris Mulick, Herald staff writer
Tri-City Herald, January 14, 2004

The Bonneville Power Administration announced Tuesday that it will use hydropower to offer services that back up wind farm generators, which otherwise produce amounts of power that fluctuate with the breeze.

The agency already provides such services for the Vansycle Wind Facility near Helix, Ore., and various utilities operating their own hydroelectric dams have offered them in small amounts to level the peaks and valleys of wind farm generation. Bonneville's new program could greatly expand the availability of such "shaping" services.

"From the wind developers' point of view, it's a big deal," said Don Bain, a Portland-based wind power consultant.

Tom Osborn, a Walla Walla-based BPA engineer specializing in the development in environmentally friendly power plants, said he hopes the program will help fuel a resurgence in wind power development. Construction has slowed after wind turbines began springing up after the energy crisis of 2000 and 2001.

But regional investor-owned utilities have issued a new request for proposals for more wind power that could make the industry boom again.

Hydroelectric dams are perhaps best suited for "shaping" output from wind farms because their output easily can be ramped up and down by releasing more water through turbines.

Cowlitz PUD will be Bonneville's first customer under its new program. The utility will ship the intermittent power it buys from the Nine Canyon Wind Project south of the Tri-Cities to Bonneville. The BPA will exchange it for a flat amount of power that remains constant.

How much the service will cost will vary by wind project. Generally, wind power can be bought for 3 cents to 4 cents per kilowatt hour after federal subsidies are included. The total bumps up to about 5 cents per kilowatt hour after shaping services are provided.

That's still a bit above the market price for power, though that can change as natural gas prices fluctuate.

"The utilities' appetite depends on the price of the alternative," Bain said. "At the end, it's still price for price."

Bonneville has taken data from several wind farms, including the Stateline Wind Project straddling the Oregon-Washington border near Wallula Junction, to get an understanding of how taking them into its system might affect its power supply.

"Each project looks different," Osborn said.

Various factors to consider include when wind farms typically generate the most power, how often they generate power at or near capacity and how much transmission capacity is available to move the power to where it's needed.

Osborn said the program will not affect the power Bonneville makes available for its wholesale customers, which include all of the utilities in the Tri-Cities, and will offer its program to more wind farm customers as the agency grows into it.

"We're very excited," said Rachel Shimshak, director of the Renewable Northwest Project, which promotes wind farm development. "We think it will be a big benefit for renewables in the Northwest."

Chris Mulick, Herald staff writer
BPA to Use Hydropower as Wind Farm Backup
Tri-City Herald, January 14, 2004

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