BPA decision favors hydro over thermal and wind generation

High seasonal river flows and hydroelectric generation in the Pacific Northwest led the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) to issue an interim decision May 13 to address what it called a "potentially imminent need" to temporarily limit output from non-hydropower resources.

The interim policy will remain in place until March 30, 2012 limits generation at coal, natural gas and other thermal power plants first. As a last resort, BPA’s policy could limit wind energy generation connected to its power transmission system. Under the policy, BPA said it will replace any reduced thermal and wind generation with hydropower from federal dams on the Columbia River system.

BPA said it will not reimburse wind energy producers for lost tax credits or other revenues, saying that would shift costs to Northwest ratepayers who do not receive the wind power.

BPA finalized its interim "Environmental Redispatch" policy to help cope with runoff from what it said it the largest snowpack in years. The Northwest River Forecast Center predicts this year will bring the highest Columbia Basin runoff volume since 1999. Conditions could push generation of hydroelectric power beyond the region’s limited spring electricity needs.

"Despite months of searching through a robust public process, there was no good choice here," said BPA Administrator Steve Wright in a statement. "I believe we have adopted the option that best preserves reliability, protects salmon and avoids increased costs on average to Northwest ratepayers."

BPA said it took several steps to avoid the need for an interim policy, including:

  • Working with other agencies and utilities to maximize available reservoir space to manage river flows and control hydroelectric generation.
  • Adjusting non-essential transmission line maintenance so that maximum capacity is available to carry electric generation to markets from Canada to California.
  • Pumping water into storage space for later use to irrigate crops or generate power.
  • Offering low-cost or free hydropower to help create a market incentive for power producers to substitute it for fossil fuel generation.

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