From the desk of Rhett Lawrence, Policy Analyst for Save our Wild Salmon
|Wind turbines near Tri-Cities, Washington|
As part of its ongoing attempts to reduce spill levels in the Columbia and Snake Rivers, the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) has now implemented its policy to shut off wind energy production in the region due to high flow levels in the rivers.
Even though BPA has had years to prepare for this situation, the agency is now claiming that legal constraints for salmon and overgeneration of wind and hydropower are forcing it to turn off wind power production.
That policy was implemented for the first time in the early morning hours of May 18 and has been used every day since then for a least a few hours.
Here’s what Congressman Blumenauer (D-OR) had to say in a May 23 news conference with SOS and wind industry advocates:
“The actions that the Bonneville Power Administration has undertaken are in direct conflict with the stated renewable goals of the Department of Energy, the Obama Administration, many key energy policy leaders nationally and regionally, and at variance with what we’ve attempted to do in the Pacific Northwest to grow [the wind] industry.”
Further, Congressman Blumenauer noted, “this action is unnecessarily dividing Northwest utility consumers into winners and losers.”
SOS has also repeatedly stated that BPA’s policy undermines renewable energy generation and is harmful to salmon. A recent op-ed in the Seattle Times from SOS Executive Director, Pat Ford, made a clear case for how wild salmon and wind power can and should be working together. Indeed, the simple reality is that spilling more water over the dams would both be helpful to out-migrating young salmon and would create more room on the energy grid for wind power.
Here are Pat Ford’s comments during the May 23 news conference:
“The current situation is fundamentally a problem of too much hydro coupled with the state of energy markets – not a wind power problem…. A solution for salmon can help solve the problem. That solution is more safe spill, water going over the tops of dams rather than through turbines. Spill is the safest way to get young salmon heading to the ocean past big dams. And by reducing hydro generation some it will ease the overgeneration problem.”
Much of this situation could have been prevented.
BPA has had years to prepare for these types of overgeneration scenarios by improving the power grid to accommodate the booming production of wind and other renewable energy and finding ways to store that power. Instead, the agency has dragged its feet in preference for higher revenues via hydro power. The idea that salmon are somehow to blame for their failure to plan is disingenuous.
BPA may not be the only agency or entity that will make an adequate grid a reality, but it's in the best position to push for these new solutions. Sadly, instead of science, politics and money are driving BPA’s decision and standing in the way of what is good for both salmon and the wind industry. Litigation is now sure to follow from wind producers who are already losing millions of dollars.
We believe it’s time for BPA to stop circumventing its responsibilities to the salmon and renewable energy communities. BPA should act like the federal agency it is and help the region reach our shared goals of healthy salmon populations and a clean energy future, rather than focusing solely on increased hydropower sales and using a heavy-handed “take-it-or-sue-us” approach.
Take action here to urge Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and the U.S. Senate to help BPA see the light on this critical issue.
A wind-win solution
One last thought, cogently expressed by Alan Moore of SOS coalition partner Trout Unlimited in a Letter to the Editor of the Oregonian on May 9. After reading a quote from BPA’s Elliott Mainzer in a May 6 Oregonian article that "every time we choke down 1,000 megawatts [of wind energy], another 250, 500 or 1,000 megawatts shows up," Alan noticed that the 1,000 MW figure looked a little familiar. As he put it in his LTE, “[t]he proliferation of wind alone makes replacing the 1,000 megawatts of hydropower needed to reopen the lower Snake River and access to more than 5,000 stream miles of the best salmon and steelhead habitat left in the world look like a pittance.”
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves, Alan. Taking out the four costly and outdated dams on the lower Snake River could indeed largely make BPA’s overgeneration problem go away. Shouldn’t we be working toward such “wind-win” solutions?
Read an extended version of this post from Rhett Lawrence at the SOS website.