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Lawmakers, BPA grapple with energy oversupply; Legislative panel hears concerns about shutting off turbines

OLYMPIA – Oversupply of renewable energy is expected to continue affecting Clark County and Washington, with no clear solution on the horizon, according to Bonneville Power Administration officials.

With wind energy farms expanding in the Columbia River Gorge, the federal power marketing agency has struggled with the issue of energy oversupply.

The power glut was particularly evident last spring, as runoff from an abundant snowpack reached hydroelectric generating facilities at the same time wind turbine production was peaking. Unable to handle all of the power, BPA ordered some of the wind turbines shut down, angering their owners who were hoping to capitalize on their investment in green energy.

At a legislative meeting Wednesday, Bonneville’s strategy integration director said the problem is likely to persist, although Bonneville administrators are considering solutions and learning as they go.

“We don’t have the ability to store that much energy,” said Syd Berwager. “The basic challenge is that if we knew what the wind generation was going to be and could plan on it, we would not have to swing the system.”

Among the tools being used to improve handling the oversupply is intrahour scheduling, so that power transmission schedules can be changed every half-hour to adjust to wind variability. Bonneville is encouraging wind

generators to commit to the half-hour scheduling by offering a 34 percent reduction in wind integration charges, according to Liz Klumpp, the Western Washington liaison for Bonneville.

“We forecast that additional spring oversupply events will happen; they’ve been happening for years. We estimate that we could expect this kind of challenge … maybe once every three years,” Klumpp said.

This year’s surplus of wind and hydropower have dropped market energy prices far below usual levels, according to Ken Dragoon, senior resource analyst for the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. These low prices caused Clark Public Utilities to shut down its natural gas-fired River Road Generating Plant for seven months because it was cheaper for the company to purchase power than to produce the energy itself.

Clark Public Utilities will also be adjusting to change in January when the company will have to obtain at least 3 percent of its electricity from renewable sources – excluding hydropower – due to a clean energy initiative passed by voters in 2006. Utility companies will have to increase that share to 9 percent in 2016 and 15 percent in 2020.

Klumpp said Bonneville is also looking into potential changes to the initiative so wind generators will not be unfairly impacted if they are shut down again.

While amendments to the initiative have been discussed none have been implemented yet. The chairman of the Technology Energy and Communications Committee, Rep. John McCoy, D-Everett, announced that although he had planned to look into amending the initiative in the coming session, he had decided against it.

Committee member Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, said she was surprised by McCoy’s comments and had expected to address the issue more thoroughly at the meeting Wednesday.