November 06, 2008

Wait! I Thought Wind Power Was A Good Thing!

And they are not talking about Al Gore after dinner. Actually, the salmon seem to think windmills may be a bad thing.

But while all that sounds great, it is important to understand that there are serious concerns to consider.

You see, when the wind is really blowing and the farms are operating at maximum capacity, the present system will not be able to handle all of that electricity, which ultimately affects fish.

This isn't just a theory - it actually happened recently.  At the end of June, there was an unexpected surge in wind power and too much energy was created for the regional grid to handle.  To compensate, the dams cut their power by spilling more water.

Spilling more water is dangerous for fish because water plunging from the dams into the river becomes saturated with air.  Air is mostly nitrogen and salmon do not like nitrogen saturation.

"I think it caught us just a little bit off guard because the rate of growth of wind has been so fast," said Elliot Mainzer with the Bonneville Power Administration.  He's in charge of strategies for balancing the electricity needs and supplies of the future.

Part of the problem is that right now we actually have enough electricity to meet demand in the Northwest but excess green power produced here can't just be sent back east.

That's because the electrical grid in the Western United States has little connection to the rest of the country.

In August, the Bonneville Power Administration asked gas and coal-fired facilities to look at 'generation increases or generation decreases.'  In short, they asked if the facilities would be willing to produce less power when wind turbines are producing at high levels.

The rub with that is that anyone who owns a coal or gas-fired electricity plant made a huge investment and is essentially being asked to cut their income.

However, the Bonneville Power Administration is trying to broker a deal where the wind industry can compensate their greenhouse gas-producing competition for lowering their production.

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