Seattletimes has an article about Wind Farm growth in Washington State.
As wind power booms, so do the challenges
The revolution happening along the Columbia River is full of promise. But wind power is fickle, and keeping our energy system running smoothly has become "the great economic and engineering challenge of our time."
By Hal Bernton
Seattle Times staff reporter
STEVE RINGMAN / THE SEATTLE TIMES
A wind project towers over Highway 14 in southeastern Washington near the Columbia River. It's one in a cluster of wind farms at the epicenter of the boom. The projects have been an economic boost for the local communities, creating hundreds of jobs and generating lease fees to landowners.
- Wind-power projects in the Pacific Northwest (PDF)
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CENTERVILLE, Klickitat County — Along the ridge-top flanks of the Columbia River, hundreds upon hundreds of wind turbines rise from wheat fields and sagebrush.
On a blustery spring day, these turbines can crank out more than twice the power of the Northwest's sole nuclear power plant. Then, on hot days in the summer, when the winds go still, the output plunges.
The turbines represent perhaps the most dramatic change to the regional power-supply system since the construction of the Bonneville Dam launched the era of federal power.
Here is graphic of Washington and Oregon Wind farms.
Before all of you Pacific Northwesterners get excited about all the renewable energy. All this power brings energy management challenges.
But the fickle, roller-coaster nature of generating electricity from the wind is also placing large new strains on efforts to manage the regional power grid.
"It is the great economic and engineering challenge of our time, at least in this industry, to try to figure out how to make all this stuff work," said Steve Wright, administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). "It's a thrilling ride. But if something goes wrong, we're the folks that people are going to look at. So we take this very seriously."
The BPA manages a regional power grid that, minute-by-minute, must match the flow of electricity surging through the system with power consumption. When wind power unexpectedly surges or drops below forecasts, the BPA must idle back or crank up hydroelectric production from a network of Columbia River dams in order to avoid blackouts or other power disruptions.
As the wind industry expands, the BPA has found it more difficult to even out all the surges and drop-offs in electrical power, and still meet other responsibilities that include spilling water to aid the passage of endangered salmon.
50% of the Washington BPA power goes to California.
But nearly half the region's wind power is shipped to California, and that proportion is expected to grow in the years ahead, according to BPA. The power lines that head south already are close to capacity, creating questions about who will pay for new lines and where they might go.
And Oregon's shipping power to Southern California.
On the Oregon side of the Columbia, the largest wind farm in the world — a $2 billion project with 330 turbines — is scheduled to begin operations in 2012. The farm will sell all that power to Southern Edison, a California utility.
When I first looked at the wind farm PDF I was wondering why the wind farms were all so close to the Columbia river which probably has to do with complex relationships with water mass, temperature differentials, elevation changes, etc. But, another point is the wind farms need the hydro power.
Small gaps between forecasts and wind-power production are relatively easy for BPA dispatchers to handle; they can quickly increase or decrease the amount of hydro power produced by Columbia River dams. BPA then charges the wind operators for this service, which also is necessary to avoid power surges that, in a worst-case scenario, could cause blackouts.
Natural gas is another way to address peaking power needs.
Wind-power developers say there are other, less-costly options for balancing out the power surges without tapping into the BPA hydro system. They could, for example, pay companies that operate gas turbines to crank up capacity when wind dies off, and also pay to have those gas turbines backed off when the wind is blowing.
Or wind power may generate hydro power.
Klickitat Public Utility District proposes to harness surplus electricity to pump water from a low reservoir along the river to a second one high in the hills. When the operators want to tap into that power, they could run the water downhill through a hydro turbine system.
It's an expensive plan, with a price tag estimated at $2 billion.
If this sounds a bit complicated it is, and all of this is most likely going to increase power prices.
At some point data centers are going to start hearing about data centers with microgrids. It has got to be cheaper to ship bits than electricity across state lines.