Study says wind will aid Northwest power needs

PORTLAND, Ore. – Wind energy will play a growing role in meeting the rising power needs of the Northwest, but it isn’t controllable and it needs total backup by traditional sources such as hydroelectric dams, according to a report released Wednesday by energy specialists.

The six-month study looked at how to integrate wind power into the region’s existing power system.

While wind energy sounds attractive, it can be fickle, the specialists said. Sometimes it blows, sometimes it doesn’t. And while wind is free, they said getting its energy from a rural wind farm to an urban wall socket isn’t.

The report said the existing grid can probably handle the predicted output of 6,000 mostly new megawatts of electricity from wind that are anticipated to be produced by 2024 or earlier. That’s roughly the production of two nuclear plants.

“It could be more than that. That’s all that we studied,” said Steve Wright, administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration.

Preliminary estimates indicate the addition could raise a residential electric bill from between $3 to $7 monthly because of costs from integrating wind power into the regional energy network and the costs from balancing energy load and supply.

“The Northwest is a pretty windy place and wind power is no longer a curiosity,” said Tom Karier, chairman of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council and co-chairman of the 21-member committee that produced the Northwest Wind Integration Action Plan.

As of now, Northwest wind power generates about 1,600 megawatts, 200 of which go to California.

Questions remain, he said, on costs and methods of integrating it into the regional power system and how those costs can be recovered.

He said wind power meets about 2 percent of regional needs now and could reach 5 percent by 2009.

“Wind by itself does not produce a reliable electric power system,” Wright said.

He said, for example, that wind tends to blow less on the hottest and coldest days, when energy demand peaks.

He advocated spreading out wind farms so if wind stops blowing in one area, it may be blowing in another.

“We believe the problems are solvable but work needs to be done,” he said.

Pat Reiten, Pacific Power’s representative on the project, said wind power has the capacity to reduce fuel costs and emissions from power plants fired by coal and natural gas.

He said his company recently added 350 megawatts of renewable energy resources, most of it wind, and expects to add 1,000 more by 2015.

Emphasis is on inland projects, and ample wind prospects along the Oregon Coast are not a priority now, said Terry Hudgens of Portland-based PPM Energy, a major developer of wind energy projects.

He said there is a lack of substantial transmission facilities to move coastal wind energy to markets and that the scenic area is sensitive to development.

Increased interest in wind energy began with the power crisis of 2000-01 and with the prospect of more expensive and uncertain supplies of imported energy.

“A load growth is taking place and wind needs to be a portion of the portfolio,” said Tim Culbertson, general manager of the Grant County Public Utility District in Eastern Washington.

“But the (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) has mandated firm standards of system reliability with penalties. We need to know how to maintain reliability while integrating new resources for load requirements.”

Energy specialists also are exploring capabilities of solar, geothermal and wave-generated renewable energy.

More transmission capacity will be required no matter what the source, said Rachel Shimshak of the Portland-based Renewable Northwest Project.

She said Washington has passed legislation regarding renewable energy and Oregon is considering doing so.

“I hope wind energy plays a large role in that, but it is not the only resource needed,” she said.

“The good news is that there are no technical restraints (for the 6,000 megawatts), the cost is reasonable and that costs can be reduced going forward.

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