Northwest wind power could more than double by 2025, possibly causing problems for managing the transmission grid, according to a new study.
PORTLAND — Northwest wind power could more than double by 2025, possibly causing problems for managing the transmission grid, according to a new study.
Wind turbines now operating or under construction can generate a peak output of about 6,000 megawatts, or the equivalent of 15 good-size natural gas-fired power plants, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council said.
Most of that wind power was added in the past five years.
The Portland-based council estimates the region could see another 5,000 to 10,000 megawatts of wind capacity by 2025, The Oregonian reported.
The council is tasked by Congress with developing long-term power plans that balance the region's energy and environmental needs.
Its staff prepared the study released Thursday to provide power planners with a forecast on the upper limit of potential wind development for a region that is already struggling to absorb the rapidly increasing and highly variable output of its expanding wind turbine fleet.
Most Northwest wind farms are directly connected to the transmission system operated by the Bonneville Power Administration, which also markets federal hydroelectric power.
Bonneville, also based in Portland, has already put wind developers on notice that its ability to absorb more wind power is limited.
Variable wind output taxes the hydro system, and Bonneville has already established a policy to pull the plug on wind farms when output misses scheduled deliveries by enough to exhaust hydro system reserves.
More recently, Bonneville threatened to shut off wind farms and substitute free hydropower when there was too much simultaneous wind and water energy being generated.
"Every time we choke down 1,000 megawatts, another 250, 500 or 1,000 megawatts shows up," said Elliott Mainzer, Bonneville's executive vice president for corporate strategy. "The impact has not been too significant so far, but as we scale this up, it will become more significant."
Wind developers and utilities that have invested in wind farms contend that Bonneville is discriminating against their projects to insulate its own customers from new market realities.
"It's an economic problem," said Jim Lobdell, vice president of power operations and resource strategy at Portland General Electric, one of the largest utilities in Oregon. "They have to step up to the changing economics of the market."
Meanwhile, lawmakers in Oregon, Washington, Montana and California have established aggressive mandates for renewable power that ratchet higher over the next 15 years.
Oregon's large utilities are required to serve 5 percent of their demand with renewables this year, increasing to 25 percent by 2025. California's standard is 33 percent by 2020, and Washington's is 15 percent by 2020.
Utility, regulatory, consumer and environmental organizations will convene early next month under the umbrella of the Northwest Wind Integration Committee, which last met and created a wind integration action plan for the region in 2007.