New York Times
December 7, 2011
U.S. Agency Is Ordered to Change Wind Rules
Matthew L. Wald
Faced with a surplus of renewable energy on its system, the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) locked out wind generators from its transmission system. To balance supply and demand this year, BPA displaced nearly 100,000 megawatt hours of wind energy from May 18 to July 10, or about 5.4 percent of the amount produced by wind machines connected to its grid. BPA could have reduced the power output of hydroelectric dams by routing excess water through a spillway, but chose to cut off wind generation instead. In response to a complaint filed at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) by wind developers, FERC ruled that BPA had unfairly discriminated against wind developers. According to FERC’s decision, BPA’s policy “significantly diminishes open access to transmission” and imposed conditions on the wind operators “that are not comparable to those it provides itself,” in violation of FERC’s open access transmission policies. The wind companies argued to FERC that rather than simply turning off the wind turbines, BPA should have resorted to “negative pricing,” or paying customers to take the excess power.
From this author’s experience with BPA, a fundamental issue is that BPA has a financial stake in the revenue generated from the region’s hydropower projects. The agency has no such interest in protecting the revenue stream for wind developers. If forced to choose between spilling water at the region’s dams or turning off wind turbines, BPA cannot be expected to respond fairly. And it didn’t, so FERC was required to step in and preserve wind developers’ rights to access the transmission system.