Wind-power generators are dependent on nature for success

But when heavy rains boost hydropower generation, there isn't room on the transmission lines for wind energy. That's the risk of a nature-driven business.

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The generation of wind power is ultimately good for the Pacific Northwest. The wind turbines are a terrific supplement to help meet energy needs.

But hydropower is, well, king. It's the dominate source of electricity in this region. The clean power it provides is why electric rates in the Northwest are among the lowest in the nation.

It is important to have both sources of renewable energy.

However, there is a dispute brewing between the operators of wind farms and the Bonneville Power Administration that manages the power grid in most of the Northwest.

Wind farm operators are irked that BPA twice ordered wind farms to cut production because of a surplus of power from the hydroelectric dams. This spring's heavy rains have the rivers running faster than normal, which results in more water through hydroelectric turbines and more power generated.

BPA has no choice but to react to what nature deals it.

And wind farmers have to accept that their business benefits from nature (steady wind) and it can also suffer from it (no wind and heavy rains). Yet, wind operators are taking a position that seems unreasonable given that wind producers will be compensated for the lost revenue when their access to the transmission lines is cut. In addition, the construction of wind towers is heavily subsidized by the federal government.

"This is a situation in which Bonneville is unfairly using its control of the federal transmission system to interrupt our generators," said Jan Johnson, a spokeswoman for Iberdrola Renewables, a wind-power developer.

The transmission lines provided by BPA have a limited capacity. This means BPA must schedule use of the transmission lines to accommodate the energy generated by the Pacific Northwest dams, wind turbines and other sources.

A decision was been made to run more water through the turbines because an excessive amount of water going over the dams creates nitrogen bubbles that harm fish.

That would seem to be reasonable. BPA had done its planning based on past conditions. Not only was there more water in the rivers but the amount of power generated by the wind turbines increased significantly from the same time last year.

The concern of wind-power generators and renewable energy advocacy groups is that continued disruptions in access to the grid will slow the growth of wind farms in the region.

Ultimately, those who invest in wind farms must determine if there is profit to be made. If the market can't sustain giant wind farms over the long term, perhaps the investment in wind energy will slow.

In the end the decision to build wind farms, like all business decisions, must be made by considering the risk vs. reward.

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