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Portland organization vies to integrate wind technology

By Deirdre Gregg
Business Journal

The Bonneville Power Administration is trying — or may try in the future — an array of tactics to better integrate the variable element of wind into a grid that was designed to work with steadier power sources such as hydro and natural gas.

TAMPING IT DOWN If wind projects are generating too much power, Portland-based BPA will tell them to cut back. Most of the newer wind projects can simply change the angle of their blades to reduce electricity they generate.

Starting this fall, any wind farm that doesn’t respond withing 10 inutes may be disconnected from the grid. If a wind farm doesn’t comply three times in a two year period, BPA is proposing to install its own equipment at the wind farm that would allow BPA to control the project’s output.

That’s not a desirable outcome, according to renewable energy advocates, because clean energy that could displace fossil-fuel energy is being wasted.

BPA is looking at a number of other steps with a slightly longer time horizon.

PLAYING WELL WITH OTHERS BPA is one of 14 of the Northwest’s "balancing authorities” – a utility or transmission provider responsible for maintaining the balance between electricity supply and demand.

If BPA were to coordinate better with other balancing authorities, tapping into their power sources, it could make better use of wind energy.

"If the various balancing areas have access to each other’s resources, you’ve got a lot more options,” said Rachel Shimshak, director of Renewable Northwest Project, a Portland-based coalition of public-interest groups and energy companies.

If needed, when the wind was blowing strongly, BPA could ask a natural gas-fired plant to reduce its generation, which would mean less carbon dioxide emissions, Shimshak said.

BPA aims to launch a pilot project on "third-party supply,” using a power source outside its balancing area to match with wind power, by Oct. 1, said Eric King, project manger for the BPA Wind Integration Team.

Critics say the BPA has moved too slowly to make use of generators outside its system. BPA has so far used only its own hydroprojects to balance out wind power, said Robert Kahn, executive director of the Northwest & Intermountain Power Producers Coalition, at a hearing before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on wind integration.

"This isolationist response only serves to stress BPA’s generation while imposing onerous costs on wind power generators,” Kahn said at the March 2 hearing.

PREDICTING MORE CLEARLY The science of predicting how and when the wind will blow, from moment to moment and moth to month, has a long way to go, King said. But it is improving.

More accurate forecasts will make it easier and cheaper to integrate wind power projects.

This summer, BPA and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory will be putting 16 new wind monitoring devices in place in a research project meant to improve wind forecasts.

Right now, BPA and other players can adjust only the supply side of the power equation, and can’t really change the demand side. Smart grid technology, a hot topic in Washington DC would allow utilities and consumers to adjust demand, too.

Danish researchers are now trying to use smart grid technology to match up wind energy and plug-in electric cars. Vehicle battery charging could slow down if wind power dipped below projects, or speed up if it surged.

BPA and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have already done a demonstration project on smart appliance technology.

SPREADING IT OUT Many of the large wind projects built and proposed in the Northwest, both in Washington and Oregon, are along the Columbia River Gorge.

Wind power companies are looking at or building in other sites, too such as Kittitas County, but to really diversify, Washington utilities will need to look to projects in wind rich places like Montana and Wyoming.

But building the high-capacity transmission lines needed to carry that electricity will be expensive.

STORING IT UP In the long term, wind projects could store the excess power they generate.

One possibility would be pumped water storage: Wind power pumps water to a reservoir at a high elevation, and when the power is needed, water runs through a turbine down to a reservoir at a lower elevation.

Another option: better, more efficient batteries.

Business Journal
Portland, OR
May 22, 2009

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