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Kulongoski joins support of BPA's proposed carbon study

The governors of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana have signed a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Energy supporting funding for the Bonneville Power Administration to study technologies for integrating wind and other renewable energy into the Northwest power grid.

One of these studies will evaluate potential sites for pumped-storage power plants that would provide a carbon-free resource for temporarily storing energy generated by wind farms and other renewable resources. Pumped storage is a form of hydropower in which water is pumped uphill to a reservoir during low-demand periods, such as late at night or very early in the morning, and then allowed to flow downhill to turbines during high-demand periods.

Bonneville, a federal power-marketing authority under the Department of Energy, is seeking funding to study the potential for new generating plants, including pumped-storage facilities, that could be built to support renewable energy, which can be highly intermittent. Wind power is particularly intermittent and must be backed up by another power source to ensure its reliability.

One of the studies will begin by identifying and evaluating all potential sources of integrating wind that will include, at a minimum, pumped storage, demand-response programs, flywheel storage, smart grid innovations, hydrogen proposals, and conventional gas-fired generation.

In their letter, the governors point out that the 2,000 megawatts of wind power currently distributed by Bonneville constitutes the largest single demand for backup power from the Bonneville system. Bonneville relies on hydropower for this purpose. Bonneville expects to have 6,000 megawatts of wind power in its system by 2013, but its supply of backup hydropower will be exhausted by 2011.

Bonneville is not alone in this dilemma, as other utilities are facing the same issue with the proliferation of renewable energy. Consequently there is interest across the West in finding reliable new supplies to help integrate intermittent renewable power with power provided from other generating plants and maintain a reliable, adequate electricity supply.

In their letter, the governors specifically support investigation of the potential for new pumped-storage power plants in the region:

"The Pacific Northwest, with its significant hydroelectric resources and growing commitment to wind energy, would be an excellent proving ground for this emissions-free technology."

Electricity from a pumped-storage facility can be used to back up intermittent renewable supplies, such as wind power, at times when the renewable fuel is not available -- such as when the wind is not blowing. In the power industry, this backup power is known as "balancing reserves."

Here are statements issued by the governors with their letter:

Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski:

"In our quest for energy independence and energy security, I have maintained that no option should be left off the table. Well-designed pumped storage, powered by renewable energy and sensitive to environmental considerations, has potential to support integrating renewable energy into our energy grid. This technology should be further evaluated, especially in light of rapid climate change and its effects on water availability and weather patterns."

Washington Governor Chris Gregoire:

"The Northwest states have made huge progress in developing renewable power. We need to continue to build on that momentum," said Gov. Chris Gregoire. "With funding from the Department of Energy, we should be able to prepare the ground work to get even more renewable power into the grid and make it usable for families and businesses. I look forward to working with Bonneville and our neighboring states to grow our renewable power industry and better serve our communities."

Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer:

"Montana welcomes the opportunity to integrate our vast wind resources and other renewable energy into the available energy supply. It is important to continue to explore new technologies to insure that the Pacific Northwest has efficient, affordable, and reliable energy while at the same time protecting our environment."

Idaho Governor C. L. "Butch" Otter:

"The Northwest states will continue refining and improving our electrical generation and transmission system while maintaining the lowest reasonable rates possible by responsibly using one of our greatest assets - water. It is my goal to make even better, more efficient use of our precious resources, and that includes exploring the potential of pumped storage in generating more energy from the same amount of water," Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter said.

"Rather than continuing down the path of dividing up scarce resources, providing additional pumped storage capacity holds the promise of increased flexibility in meeting peak energy demand, backing up additional wind and other alternative energy, and helping to meet growing demand for water beyond electricity generation."