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Surge in wind power causes spike in NW power grid

The wind huffed, and it puffed, and it nearly caused major problems in the Northwest’s electrical grid last week.

Power managers say they have some fixing to do.

A surge of wind last Monday afternoon jumped far beyond levels forecast by operators of Oregon’s burgeoning wind-farm industry, sending more power into the regional grid than it could handle.

The Bonneville Power Administration is responsible for adjusting hydropower generation levels to accommodate the power from wind turbines so the system isn’t overloaded.

It realized by Monday evening that it could no longer handle the surge without increasing spills of water through hydroelectric dams to levels dangerous to fish. Spilling the water keeps it from the hydropower generators.

Generally, spills are needed to help juvenile salmon make their way downriver, although too much water can prove lethal.

So, for the first time, BPA power managers began calling wind-farm operators with orders to curtail power generation.

But calls to some wind farms reached only answering machines, and at another the operators misunderstood and kept generation steady. One wind-farm, which BPA wouldn’t name, did reduce generation.

As it turned out, water the BPA had to spill wasn’t heavy enough to do damage.

But a BPA official said it demonstrated a need to make sure that the growth of wind power in the Columbia Basin doesn’t cause more such problems.

“It was a wake-up call,” said Brian Silverstein, a BPA transmission vice president.

The agency can sanction wind companies that disobey pullback orders. In this case, penalties were unnecessary, Silverstein said, but fine-tuning of protocols definitely is.

Associated Press


6 July 2008