It’s time for the wind industry to start being held to the same standard as power plants run by natural gas and coal, the federal grid watchdog says.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the independent agency charged with regulating the nation’s interstate electricity markets, did away with a key exemption last week for wind farms wishing to compete in the large wholesale markets the commission oversees.
The commission says maintaining the exemption is “unjust, unreasonable and unduly discriminatory and preferential.”
It says the declining cost of wind power makes it inexcusable for wind farms not to provide “reactive power” to the grid, which maintains the baseline level of electric voltage needed for electricity to travel across transmission lines to ensure that the grid does not collapse.
Conventional, or “synchronous,” power plants have typically had to pick up the slack in providing the reactive power to keep the grid humming. “Further, the growing penetration of wind generators on some systems increases the potential for a deficiency in reactive power,” the commission says, suggesting that wind has to start supporting the grid it relies on too.
“Given these changes, the commission finds under section 206 of the Federal Power Act that wind generators should not have an exemption from the reactive power requirement which is unavailable to other generators,” the commission says.
The commission says the exemption was based on it being too expensive in the past for wind technologies to provide the same reactive power services as other generators. But wind turbines have become much more robust, and with their growing technological advancement comes added responsibility for keeping the grid stable.
But the rule recognizes that wind generators cannot be expected to provide the same level of service in providing reactive power as other power plants. The new requirements make it technically feasible for wind to provide the new required services.
The American Wind Energy Association, representing the wind industry, said it supports the commission’s move.
The industry “is now able to provide all reliability service as good or better than conventional resources,” says Michael Goggin, senior director of research at the wind association.
The commission’s decision marks the “evolution of wind as a mainstream technology,” he said. Wind turbines are now competitive, and “we’ve advocated that wind play by the same rules” as other generators.
Goggin noted that the commission is holding a technical conference to discuss how to structure the payments wind and other generators receive to provide reliability services to the grid. The June 16 rule did not address compensation, he said.
The new rules will become effective 90 days after being published in the Federal Register.
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