PORTLAND — For the first time, wind farms plugged into the Bonneville Power Administration network exceeded the output last week of hydroelectric dams in the Northwest.
The Oregonian reports it happened early one morning time when the BPA had dialed down hydro generation because demand was light.
Wind farms plugged into the Bonneville Power Administration's transmission network hit a new generation record of 4,289 megawatts.
Although the wind/water shift is primarily the result of BPA's dialing down hydro generation to meet light demand, it also reflects another surge in wind generation on the Columbia Plateau, including the connection this year of two phases of the massive Shepherd's Flat wind farm in Gilliam and Morrow counties, as well as Puget Sound Energy's Lower Snake Wind farm in southeast Washington.
Together, that's an additional 923 megawatts this year added to the region's wind fleet. BPA now has about 4,700 megawatts of wind capacity connected to its transmission system. If all the turbines are spinning full speed — although this typically wouldn't happen — that's the equivalent of four or five good-size nuclear reactors. Theoretically, that's enough energy to serve about 3.6 million homes, though wind turbines in the region typically produce, on average, about a third of their capacity.
BPA spokesman Doug Johnson said the milestone is a reminder the region still needs a long-term solution to manage an oversupply of power at times from wind and water sources.
This spring and last year, BPA instituted its controversial "oversupply management protocol" to shut down wind farms output when water flows were so high that the federal dams generated more power than customers could use.
Wind farm owners last spring asked federal regulators to step in and curtail the practice, accusing the federal agency of violating its transmission contracts to protect its customers from paying higher energy prices.
BPA maintains that the policy protects salmon from excessive dissolved gases when it is forced to spill too much water. The matter is still pending at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
A policy manager with a wind power advocacy group, Cameron Yourkowski of the Renewable Northwest Project, says the wind power can lighten the load at a time of year when water flows are low.