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Ruling on wind power questioned

Washington’s congressional delegation is questioning a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s ruling in favor of Northwest wind power generator operators.

Eighteen bipartisan Northwest senators and representatives sent a letter Tuesday to Energy Secretary Steven Chu as the region is weeks away from the spring snowmelt season.

At issue is FERC’s December ruling that the Bonneville Power Administration discriminated against wind power generators when it limited the output from power generators other than hydroelectric power generators last year during high seasonal water flows.

“We are concerned that FERC may have overstepped its authority in its order,” the letter said. The Northwest has a long history of resolving difficult challenges without FERC involvement, it said.

FERC should promptly schedule a re-hearing, which would allow clarification on the order and a full airing of issues raised in the order, it said.

Among those signing the letter were Washington Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.

Others signing the letter included Jay Inslee, D-Wash., who is running for governor; Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash.; Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash.; Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, and Rep. Greg Walden, R-Oregon.

In May, with unusually high water flows projected, BPA announced it would first limit generation at coal, natural gas and other thermal power plants to keep the supply of power from exceeding demand.

As a last resort, it would temporarily limit wind power generation connected to its power transmission system, it said.

The move was intended to preserve reliability, avoid increased costs to Northwest ratepayers and protect young salmon and steelhead that can be harmed by dissolved gases in the water if too much water is released through dam spillways, according to BPA. Now with the spring snowmelt approaching, BPA must again adopt a re-dispatch policy for excess power, the letter to Chu said.

The agency has been working for several months on settlement discussions with involved parties, and talks should be given every chance to succeed before any further regulatory or judicial decisions are made, the letter said.

As BPA continues to integrate renewable energies into the electric grid, it also must remain a low-cost provider of federal power, protect endangered species and operate the transmission system in a reliable, cost-effective and nondiscriminatory manner, the letter said.

“While we may have different views about the specific path forward, we fundamentally agree that the resolution of this dispute can and should come from the Northwest,” the letter said.