New wind energy development is off to a slow start in 2013, following a surge of projects last year that added 1,700 megawatts of generation across the Pacific Northwest.
Wind power now makes up 13 percent of the region’s total generating capacity, according to energy analysts with the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. But uncertainty over the future of federal tax credits for wind production has the industry in a lull, with no new projects currently under construction in the area.
The council met Wednesday at the Port of Morrow in Boardman for an update on local wind development, including the challenges of integrating the resource onto the power system.
Gillian Charles, energy policy analyst with the council, said wind has been the dominant energy growth over the past decade, driven in part by the federal tax credits and renewable standards enforced by individual states.
The Northwest has nearly 8,500 megawatts of wind energy operating today. Major projects last year included the 845-megawatt Shepherds Flat Wind Farm in Morrow and Gilliam counties.
Wind companies hesitated, however, when the tax credits were set to expire at the end of 2012, Charles said. The credit pays 2.2 cents per kilowatt over 10 years as an incentive to keep wind farms operating.
But Congress – as part of the eleventh-hour Fiscal Cliff deal – passed a one-year extension to all projects under construction by the end of 2013. While the region has more than 12,000 megawatts in proposed work, nothing is yet to break ground.
“Most of these projects will never see the light of day, or make it out of the pipeline,” Charles said. “We don’t forsee (development) being anywhere near where it was the last couple of years.”
A majority of wind farms in the area are smaller in scale, with an equal amount producing between 11-29 megawatts and 30-99 megawatts. Utilities tend to take on these smaller projects, Charles said, because they are easier for them to integrate onto the system.
Tina Ko, manager of long-term power planning with Bonneville Power Administration, discussed the annual variability of wind generation and looked at studies comparing it to the variation of flows in hydropower.
The data showed wind varied more, on average, in the winter months from October through February. Hyrdopower flows then varied more strongly from March through July.
BPA will continue to look at wind trends and production over the last decade, Ko said, to try and forecast how today’s growing wind fleet would fare given those conditions.
Another challenge is balancing wind power in a utility’s system, said Ben Kujala, senior analyst with the council’s Power Planning Division. The wind has to somehow fit in without compromising other power plants.
While long-term studies focus on weather models to better predict the wind outputs, the energy produced now has to match up with energy used in the short-term, Kujala said.
“Wind is a significant player in the system, but it’s not the only player,” Kujala said. “You have to shape the system, including your wind, to serve that demand.”
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