When Northwest winds aren’t blowing, the energy grid compensates automatically by tapping into hydropower sources operated by the Bonneville Power Administration. But the federal agency says it is pushing the limits of how much backup power it can provide.
The BPA is required by the state of Oregon to reserve 1,000 megawatts of hydropower to back up alternative energy sources that have variable power outputs. The agency provides backup hydropower to 3,000 megawatts of wind energy in the Northwest. The backup power is necessary to prevent utility customers from being left in the dark.
But with more than two dozen new Oregon or Washington wind farms under construction or in the permitting stage, the BPA may soon be compromising the reliability of its hydropower facilities, said Doug Johnson, a spokesman for the agency. The BPA expects that by 2012 its capacity will fall short of the required reserve amount.
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