New challenges emerge in wind vs. water debate

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The wind vs. water dispute is anything but over.

The wind vs. water dispute is anything but over.

Wind turbines are back to transmitting power without interference in the Northwest as the Bonneville Power Administration has ended a 53-day curtailment period aimed at balancing the grid amid high water flows. But whether that policy benefited more than economics for BPA is now the subject of dispute.

As opponents to BPA’s curtailment policy continue to stoke what’s become a national debate over power transmission rights, one thing is clear: The sparring over BPA’s decision to supress 97,557 megawatts of wind power is just the first round in what’s likely to become a prolonged legal fight.

Recent comments made to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission accuse BPA of abusing the wind curtailment policy – under the guise of aiding endangered fish – to manipulate power markets toward favorable pricing for hydropower.

Aimed at helping renewable energy projects earn a permanent place in the Northwest, and on the power grid, such arguments are inching forward in three legal and policy arenas with no sign of a settlement. Meanwhile, regional meetings are planned to help draft a new policy for the BPA in 2012.

Since an initial claim was filed against BPA with FERC in June, the agency’s policy has attracted national attention. Approximately 70 parties have sought standing in the case, ranging from power districts to wind companies and utilities, and cities and counties from as far north as Seattle and south to Santa Clara, Calif.

Investor-owned utilities, the Oregon Public Utility Commission, wind power companies and advocacy groups voiced support for the wind energy industry, charging, among many things, that BPA ignored steps it could have taken to avoid curtailing wind, such as paying to unload excess power. They want BPA to abide by transmission contracts with wind companies in the future and avoid substituting hydropower for wind in its power deliveries to utilities.

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Lee van der Voo, lvdvoo*at*gmail.com, is a freelance writer for Sustainable Business Oregon

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