Wind is free. Converting it to electricity is not. It appears the cost falls to us, even for power we do not want or need. The generators of wind power demand we pay for electricity they do not make, and ensure their profits from taxpayer subsidies they do not receive. The federal government this month reaffirmed this is the desired policy, whatever alternative plans people in the Northwest might make.
Blame sun and gravity. In spring snow melts, wind blows, and temperatures are mild. At times dams and windmills produce more electricity than we can use. When this happens, something has to give. Nuclear, gas and coal generators shut down, and receive hydropower from the Bonneville Power Administration to compensate. Windmills, however, are built to generate federal tax credits and supply utilities forced to buy their product to meet portfolio requirements. On brief occasions, when dams spill as much water as environmental laws allow, BPA has ordered wind generation curtailed, offering free hydropower as a substitute. That did not satisfy. It then offered to partly compensate wind generators for lost revenue, and that did not satisfy. Then it offered to have Northwest ratepayers pay half the cost of the wind generators’ lost subsidies. That did not satisfy. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission earlier this month ruled BPA had not been sufficiently generous. The 50-50 split is not good enough. Wind generators propose even more costly arrangements, such as paying utilities to take away pesky cheap excess hydropower to make room on the grid for more costly, subsidized wind. FERC also takes decisions once made in the Northwest and moves them to Washington, D.C. It complicates the setting of power rates, and more.
Technological developments and power swap agreements might minimize the conflict, BPA says, but as it snows the problem grows. BPA, now ordered to revise its revised plans to better satisfy wind generators, says under the right conditions costs could reach as high as $50 million a year. It’s a lot for nothing, and guess who will pay the bill.
This is the opinion of The Wenatchee World and its Editorial Board: Publisher Rufus Woods, Editor Cal FitzSimmons and Editorial Page Editor Tracy Warner.