Northwest Renewable News

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BPA hopes meter will help manage wind farm power September 17, 2009

Filed under: Bonneville Power,Macro Hydro,Washington,Wind — nwrenewablenews @ 9:36 am
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Wind energy and hydropower have a see-saw-like relationship: When one goes up the other goes down. But the Bonneville Power Administration is hoping a small device that looks like a model rocket and weighs a few pounds can help ease the tricky synergy.

BPA on Wednesday installed an anemometer to help the power-marketing agency better forecast oncoming wind at the Horse Heaven substation just west of Paterson. The white device with a black propeller on its nose was attached to a bar extended outward about 6 feet off the top of the substation’s 70-foot communications tower.

The data it collects will be linked with 13 other anemometers scattered throughout the region to forecast approaching wind. If BPA has a tighter timeframe of when wind meets wind farms, it can be better prepared to handle the often-sudden influx of wind-generated energy.

Because wind is intermittent, it can be difficult for BPA to prepare for gusts that suddenly, and sometimes rapidly, send hundreds of megawatts of electricity onto the grid. In order to balance the flood of wind-generated electricity, BPA slows hydropower generation at dams.

That causes water to rise behind the dams, reducing the amount of power that can be generated. When the wind begins to wane, that water may have to be rapidly released to compensate for the drop in wind-generated energy.

It’s a balancing act that can be difficult to negotiate. “Basically, you have to spontaneously react to it,” said BPA spokeswoman Katie Pruder.

“We have to hold a large amount (of water) in reserve to be ready for the ups and downs.”

If BPA can better forecast and monitor wind, it should give operators and power schedulers more time to react to sudden surges and decreases of wind-generated electricity. That would allow BPA to store less water, which should result in more hydroelectricity production.

“If we hold less water in reserve, (more energy) can be sold on the open market, which can lower rates,” Pruder said.

John Lodahl, who climbed the 70-foot tower Wednesday and installed the anemometer, said the wind meters eventually will allow BPA to receive updates on wind conditions every two seconds, or nearly in real time. “It’s going to take (the data) and actually plot the wind,” he said.

It took Lodahl about an hour to install the meter on the communication tower, which sat inside the fenced-off substation, where between 115,000 and 230,000 volts of electricity surge through tall lines and a constantly humming transformer. He was helped by Max Holder. With Holder on the ground and Lodahl perched atop the tower, the pair used an antiquated technique to install 21st-century technology by working a pulley system to move bars, tools, clamps and the anemometer to the top of the tower.

Inside the substation’s lone building, Holder installed a data logger, which will relay the information gathered by the anemometer to a central BPA database. Pruder said BPA employees then will use the data to determine how much power will be needed for the next energy load and where that energy will come from. It’s during this process that BPA encounters large swings of unanticipated wind energy, which causes employees to scramble to adjust the hydropower system accordingly.

Pruder said the anemometers and the accompanying data logger system should be fully functional by September 2010. BPA currently has more than 2,200 megawatts of wind energy connected to its grid, although usually just a fraction of that is generated at any given time. On Aug. 6, more than 2,000 megawatts of wind energy pulsed through BPA’s grid, which set a record. Typically, wind energy is generated at about a third of its capacity.

An average megawatt can power about 700 homes annually in the Northwest.

DREW FOSTER; Tri-City Herald –


NW power panel: Save juice, build fewer plants September 3, 2009

A committee that guides the Bonneville Power Administration has called for buying more compact fluorescent light bulbs and building fewer carbon-emitting power plants in the Pacific Northwest.

The panel said energy efficiency in homes, businesses and factories could offset most of the demand for increased power supplies in the four-state region for two decades.

The plan submitted Thursday by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council said natural gas plants and wind energy could take care of the rest of the demand, and it did not envision new coal-fired plants.

The council said demand is expected to rise at a rate of 1.2 percent a year for the two decades beginning next year.

It said it had identified enough potential in efficient use of power to account for 85 percent of that increased demand.

An aggressive plan for efficiency is the “most cost-effective and least-risky resource available,” the council said in a statement.

“The average cost of the efficiency is half the cost of new power plants,” it said.

The council of eight members from Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington sets policy for the federal Bonneville Power Administration.

Using hydropower and a nuclear plant, the BPA is the region’s largest supplier of electricity, and its executives are required to act consistently with the council’s 20-year plans.

The plans aren’t binding on investor-owned utilities, but “I think you will find that they look at it as a bit of a blueprint,” said Bill Booth of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, chairman of the council.

Conservation groups said the council had exercised leadership in setting high goals for energy efficiency but fallen short of what it could have done: outline a plan to wean the region off coal-fired electricity.

Associated Press –


BPA Putting Up Meters To Measure The Wind August 19, 2009

Filed under: Bonneville Power,Macro Hydro,Oregon,Wind — nwrenewablenews @ 1:46 pm
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The Bonneville Power Administration wants to make better use of wind and water-energy sources. Starting Wednesday, the BPA is installing windmeters — called anemometers — to help do that. Barbara Leidl reports.

The anemometers look like little torpedoes with a tail-fan. They pick up the direction and speed of wind.

BPA spokesperson Katie Pruder says that by installing 14 of the meters in strategic locations, it will be easier to predict when wind energy is available. That in turn will make more efficient use of the hydro back up system.

Katie Pruder: “Accurate forecasting means you have to hold less water behind the dams in reserve to back up wind power, and that’s water that can be used to help meet the growing demands of electricity, that’s water that can be used to help enhance fish runs.”

The BPA has invested $200,000 in the new technology.  The system will be fully operational by September of next year.



Teams to see who best knows the way wind blows August 16, 2009

Filed under: Bonneville Power,Emerging Technology,Wind — nwrenewablenews @ 12:00 am
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Think you know which way the wind blows?

Then the folks at Bonneville Power Administration want to hear from you.

In a Pacific Northwest twist on the X-Prize, two research teams have been invited to compete, to see which can best predict wind changes as much as 36 hours in advance.

“Wind power is a great energy source, but we could make even better use of it if we could anticipate big changes,” said John Pease, who’s overseeing the contest for Bonneville. The “friendly competition,” he said, will put some of the world’s best brainpower to work building prediction models.

It’s an international challenge: AWS Truewind of New York vs. Energy and Meteo Systems of Germany. The team with the most accurate predictions will be in line for a BPA contract to develop a full-scale wind forecast model for the region.

Wind, energy analysts say, has both tremendous potential and terrific pitfalls. The most obvious downside – that it doesn’t always blow when you want it to – is complicated by the fact that electricity on the grid cannot be stored. Instead, the power being used must roughly equal the power being produced.

Better forecasting, Pease said, will help grid managers (think air traffic controllers for electrons) smooth the balance of anticipated supply and demand.

If successful, the predictive model would be the first created specifically to foresee sharp changes – called “ramps” – in wind energy. And if successful, it will be key to blending the many power sources expected to make up tomorrow’s grid.

The teams will begin this month, Pease said, projecting the blow at four Oregon and Washington wind farms.

Phil Barbour, an Oregon-based research meteorologist, called it “an exciting project,” with potential to support a growing wind-power industry around the globe. “Winds are often very localized and difficult to predict,” he said. “It’s even harder to predict these specific ramp events. This is a huge challenge for the competing teams.”

Wind power on BPA’s regional grid, Pease said, can vary over one hour’s time by as much as 1,000 megawatts – the equivalent of a big nuclear plant. That means BPA must keep backup energy reserves on tap, and must charge the wind producers for those reserves, which in turn increases the cost of wind power.

A solid predictive model, Pease said, could reduce the need for reserves, and so lower energy costs for consumers.

Michael Jamison, The Missoulian


New Wind Megawatt Milestone at BPA August 15, 2009

Filed under: Bonneville Power,Wind — nwrenewablenews @ 10:15 pm
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Bonneville Power Administration reports record wind power has helped them hit a new milestone.

BPA’s transmission grid reached an all time high of over 2,000 megawatts in one hour. Surpassing 2,000 megawatts of wind power in one hour has never been done before by BPA.

That’s enough to power Seattle and Portland for an hour, all done with wind energy.

Back in 2008 wind power supplied about 25 megawatts of power, and in the last few years, it’s risen dramatically up to over 2,200.

Were told that number is expected to triple over the next five years.



Hydropower: It’s Renewable, But Is It Green? May 11, 2009

A federal judge in Portland is considering how the hydroelectric dams on the Columbia iRver interact with salmon.

At the same time, environmentalists continue to push the Obama Administration to remove several of the hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River.

And that leads us to the next installment in our energy series, The Switch.

Hydroelectric power has long been part of the Northwest’s fabled history. In fact, Woody Guthrie wrote a whole album about building the Columbia River dams.

But in our clean energy future, is hydropower really “green” enough?

Ethan Lindsey explores the issue.
Hydro power and the Northwest. They’re nearly synonymous, even for people who’ve never heard Guthrie’s “Roll on Columbia.”

In fact, when Fran Halpin graduated from college in Massachusetts, it just made sense to move West and work on one of the country’s biggest renewable energy projects.

Fran Halpin: “I came here and got a job with Bonneville, and I said, this is like my dream job. I get to do engineering and I get to be environmentally conscious, and work with fish survival and renewable energy and conservation. Being an engineer, I am not that much of a braggard. People have to pry this stuff out of me. It is a job I am very proud to be doing and happy to be doing. I’ve loved it ever since I came out here.”

Halpin works in the Portland offices of the Bonneville Power Administration.

Today, he heads up a team that watches the water flow of the Columbia River system and markets power accordingly.

Through Halpin’s eyes, the hydroelectric power generated along the Columbia is one of the best answers we’ve got to our energy questions.

His office sits next to a trading floor and monitoring room – both of which feature banks and banks of computer screens.

Fran Halpin: “I have a couple of displays here that I can show you if you want. Ok, so this is about midnight here. So we’re at 1500 megawatts or 1700 megawatts at Grand Coulee. And then it’s dropping off between midnight and 1 o’clock. Turning off the Late Show, electric heaters are turning off. And then, early risers start getting up, so you start seeing the load picking up, people are coming into schools or offices, so the load does come way up.”

The Bonneville Power Administration sells and markets electric power generated from the federally-owned energy projects in the Northwest – that includes wind and nuclear power, as well as BPA’s bedrock business: hydroelectric dams.

On a tour of the Bonneville Dam, the sheer scale of the engineering is breathtaking.

The dams are operated by federal agencies, notably the Army Corps of Engineers.

Dams make up the biggest piece of the Northwest’s hydroelectric pie.

They’re a reliable source of base load power. That and their ability to respond to increased demands at peak times are key selling points of hydro.

Longtime Oregonians remember when hydro constituted more than 90 percent of the state’s power a few decades ago.

Inside the dam, next to the energy turbines, it’s hard to believe that hydro’s share of the regional power mix has now been cut in half.

Population and energy growth has been coupled with a push to sell cheaper power to California.

So now, Oregon gets just 42-percent of its energy from hydroelectric power.

Still, hydro is one of the cheapest – if not the cheapest – power source we’ve got.

The Bonneville Power Administration says its average price per kilowatt-hour over the past year was 2.73 cents.

The only rival is coal – but hydro supporters like to point out the dams don’t pump any pollution into the sky.

And on top of all that, it’s renewable.

Steve Wright: “Well, hydro is clearly renewable. I don’t think there’s any question about that. The fact of the matter is, it’s the cycle of water that we are able to take advantage of.

Steve Wright is the Administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration.

He says it’s also sustainable, and in his mind, green.

Steve Wright: “I believe the fundamental value of the electric power system in the Northwest resides in that river. This is a huge river, and it sits on the side of a very steep hill. And that’s a unique opportunity. Hydro power is the best renewable resource because it is the lowest cost and most reliable renewable resource. And I think that’s why so many people in the Northwest feel connected to the Columbia.”

But Wright, as well as anyone, knows and acknowledges the environmental costs of the dams.

They damaged the nearby habitat, forever changed cultures, and killed lots and lots of fish.

And to Brett Swift at the conservation group American Rivers, a label like “green” or “sustainable” or “renewable” just doesn’t fit.

Brett Swift: “Dams absolutely have an adverse impact on the environment. The important question is ‘what is the role of hydropower in the future of our energy mix. And how we label it doesn’t necessarily inform that.”

Swift says American Rivers knows that hydropower will be a part of the region’s future energy reliance – but says that doesn’t mean we should start building new dams or dismiss getting rid of old, inefficient ones.

One model for future hydro is small-scale, low impact dams.

Jerry Bryan stands next to a small hydroelectric project in the Farmers Irrigation District outside Hood River

The entire facility is about the size of a 7-11.

Jerry Bryan: “You are looking right now at the control panels for both of those generators. I still think that I am staring at engineering technology from the 40s and 50s.”

Unlike a traditional dam, this project allows fish to swim by unimpeded and yet provides local irrigators with the water they need to grow their crops.

Many in the state say little hydro projects like this could serve as models for low-impact, small scale power generation in the future, but Bryan is reluctant to take any praise.

Jerry Bryan: “If I am going to stand here and say a project I am working on is a model for everyone, I am justly accused of affected arrogance. So I am not willing to say that, but what I am willing to generalize is that if people sit down, then wonderful models emerge.”

Bryan says his project isn’t perfect. Every energy source has drawbacks.

And that’s the crux of the hydro debate, says Angus Duncan, with the non-profit Bonneville Environmental Foundation.

Angus Duncan: “There’s a tendency to exalt some sources of energy, and demonize others. And for better or worse, hydro has been demonized in the Northwest. Right now, a far greater threat to salmon runs generally, is global warming. That is a bigger threat than the hydroelectric system.”

Duncan says inefficient and destructive dams are being torn out around the region right now. And that should continue.

But he says if we tear out the big dams,we’ll need to replace that energy with something else.

And until hydro power can be replaced by something other than coal, it’s “green” enough for most.



BPA to build $246M transmission line to transport mostly wind February 20, 2009

The Bonneville Power Administration plans to start building the McNary-John Day high-voltage transmission line, which would run through southern Benton County, this spring.

Construction on the $246 million project is expected to create about 700 jobs at its peak, BPA announced Thursday.

The decision to proceed with the project was based in part on increased BPA borrowing authority included in the federal stimulus bill signed this week by President Obama.

“BPA is moving quickly to put people to work,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., in a statement. “That’s because this funding gives BPA the room to breathe in these tough economic times and the certainty to move forward with new projects. It will also help to bring alternative sources of energy online throughout the Northwest.”

When construction is completed in late 2012, the line will allow BPA to provide transmission service for more than 870 megawatts of energy, including service for more than 700 megawatts of new wind energy.

The 500-kilovolt transmission line will start at the McNary Substation in Umatilla and cross the Columbia River just north of the substation into Washington. The line then would travel west for about 70 miles along the river through Benton and Klickitat counties before crossing the river again at John Day Dam to end at the John Day Substation.

The line will be built mostly in existing right of way.

An environmental study was done for the proposed 75-mile transmission line in 2002, but the project was put on hold because of changing energy market conditions.

Requests by new power generators to use the transmission system in Southeast Washington and Northeast Oregon led BPA to consider reviving the plan in 2008. The version of the plan that has been approved reduces the project’s transmission services from the 1,250 megawatts originally considered to 870 megawatts to match its planned use now, which is mostly for wind generation.

“We are not able to get much of the wind power on the grid because it’s old, needs to be rebuilt and does not go to the right places,” Murray said earlier as she worked to get the extra borrowing authority included in the economic stimulus bill and the bill approved.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act includes $3.25 billion in borrowing authority for BPA from the U.S. Treasury Department for capital projects, such as modernizing the region’s power grid. BPA is the largest marketer of wholesale electricity in the Northwest.

“This project is a fine example of infrastructure spending that provides the most bang for the buck,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., in a statement.

The additional borrowing capacity for BPA in the economic stimulus bill will allow a total of 4,700 megawatts of wind energy to come online and create 20,000 green jobs, Murray’s staff said.

The McNary-John Day transmission is one of four high-voltage transmission lines BPA has proposed to meet the region’s transmission needs. It’s the most “shovel-ready” of the projects, BPA said last month. Since then the agency has completed a supplemental environmental study to update the 2002 study.

Environmental studies on the other three transmission projects should begin soon, BPA said. Those studies could take 18 months to three years for each of the proposed lines, depending on their complexity.

By Annette Cary, Tri-City Herald