In keeping with your May 20 editorial, “BPA’s wind power cutoff sends a troubling signal,” it’s as if Oregon threw a party, called it a vegetarian potluck and a guy showed up with a blackened-salmon Caesar salad, whereupon all the others who brought spinach salads made him throw his blackened salmon Caesar salad away.
It was still a salad, but not the “new improved” salad. Similarly, not only are many in denial that hydro power is renewable and displaces far more fossil fuel-generated electricity than wind and solar combined, the basic problem, which results in wind being displaced by hydropower, is not being identified.
Our lights are on because electric needs are exactly equal to electric generation. When electric needs are smaller there is less electric generation. The two are matched instantaneously, continuously. Almost every spring and many nighttime hours throughout the year, beginning with the development of hydropower in the Pacific Northwest, river flows normally peak with the spring freshet, making additional hydro power available while moderate temperatures lower electric needs.
These circumstances mean that in a normal year (over the past 50 years), thermal plants (coal, gas, nuclear) are shut down or have their output reduced, because their output is replaced by clean renewable hydropower. Why is this possible? Because electric needs are less than the generation available.
More recently, we have begun to pay developers to build generation irrespective of an electrical need for the generation. This only worsens the electric generation imbalance that has occurred every spring for the past 50 years. The difference now is that replacing wind generation with hydropower, while keeping the power system in balance, does not keep the financial incentives in balance.
Wind developers appear to want BPA’s customers to restore the financial incentives the developers lose, by BPA paying for wind energy nobody can use. It would be patently unfair for BPA customers to pay wind developers for reductions in their incentives, primarily because wind is being displaced for the health and safety of the region’s power supply system. It is also unfair because only a small segment of the general population would be paying this tribute to wind developers, while the situation we are in was brought about by public policy directives.
The Oregonian rightly acknowledges the dissolved nitrogen issue caused by spilling water at dams, but neglects to point out that there are federal clean water requirements involved as well. Further, there is no question that exceeding the dissolved nitrogen levels set by the Clean Water Act will harm fish, including salmon and steelhead.
We do agree that wind incentives must be re-evaluated. Building electrical generation for generation’s sake is poor public policy and worse power system policy. The fundamental power supply issue that must not be ignored is that to have a reliable power system, electrical generation cannot exceed electric needs.
Steve Eldrige is general manager and CEO of the Umatilla Electric Cooperative in Hermiston.
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