WALLA WALLA -- One hundred years after its start, Pacific Power finds a significant part of its future literally blowing in the wind.
"From basically zero we've become the second-largest owner of wind power in the United States," said Pat Reiten, company president. But how to integrate that power into the existing electrical grid "has become one of the major challenges of our time."
Reiten spoke about the future of wind power as well as a host of other topics during a visit to Walla Walla on Wednesday, where he dedicated the Pacific Power Huff 'n Puff House at the Children's Museum and later spoke at a community luncheon.
The dedication helped mark Pacific Power's 100th year of service to Walla Walla, which was one of four original communities the utility served when it was founded on June 16, 1910.
Reiten said later that while wind power is the only commercially viable carbon-free power source now other than hydropower, it is creating "major issues" for transmission systems because output can soar or dip at a moments notice.
One suggested solution, better computer modeling of wind patterns, is not a panacea, he said. "The truth is these wind projects operate in microclimates, so we're going to live with extreme ramps up and down." A major step would be some type of storage system, such as an "industrial scale" battery array, But that is still on the horizon.
At present, natural gas turbines are being used to even out the flow of power, which means "a commitment to wind is a commitment to gas," he said. A related issue is the need to expand transmission capability to handle the loads.
Despite what some hope, Reiten said it is unlikely future energy demands can be met through a combination of renewable energy sources and conservation measures alone. While there are new efficiencies, there are also new needs.
"We have to have other types of (power) generation," he said.