Confession time: I still don’t get it. I don’t understand how or why hydroelectric power isn’t considered “renewable” in Oregon.
I don’t understand why we here in Eastern Oregon should have to subsidize power users in California, where the vast majority of the power generated by those wind turbines ends up.
And I really don’t understand why our state legislature continues to ignore the obvious.
The wind farms are unhappy this year because the Bonneville Power Administration pulled the plug on the wind farms when Columbia River flows were at a peak. In return, BPA substituted free power to every user that had contracted with the wind farms.
In short, everyone got the power they were promised at the price they were promised.
No problem, right?
Well, not really. The wind farms actually lost money.
Wind farms don’t make money by generating power. They make money by generating renewable power, which is accompanied by some terrific tax credits and subsidies.
If the wind farms had to generate power and sell it under the same rules as everyone else, there wouldn’t be many of them. Wind power is still far too unreliable to be a consistent player in the open market.
But as long as governments force power companies to buy a portion of their power from “renewables,” the wind farms have built-in protection.
It’s why California is buying so much wind power from Oregon.
And it’s why wind farms are overjoyed when the Oregon legislature deems that hydroelectric power – just about the cheapest, cleanest and most-dependable source of power imaginable – is not a renewable.
There are some positives. Wind farms do generate some income for counties. They do put some money in local coffers.
The downside, of course, is that our electric rates go up as our power companies are forced to buy more power from renewables. Wind power is more expensive. That cost is passed on to us. Thus, the money our counties get from wind farms ends up going right back to the farms for a net gain of zero.
Right now, we’re not feeling the hit in a big way in Eastern Oregon – but it’s coming. As the requirement for more renewable energy grows, power companies are being forced to buy more wind and the price of electricity will continue to go up.
I’m hoping it can’t last. I’m hoping that common sense will sooner or later take root and consumers everywhere in Oregon will start asking their legislators why hydropower isn’t renewable.
When that happens, maybe we’ll finally get an answer that makes sense.
By the way, here’s an irony that would be funny if it weren’t so painful.
That hydropower that was sent to California this spring in place of the wind power? California companies still got to claim that as “renewable” power because they purchased it via contracts with the wind farms.
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