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Economic and dam related articles

Energy Northwest Picked
for BPA Pilot Project

by Annette Cary
The News Tribune, September 18, 2014

Energy Northwest has been picked by the Bonneville Power Administration for a pilot project to demonstrate balancing power production with power use through the quick response of users to reduce consumption.

Such balancing could serve as a cost-effective alternative to building additional electricity generating stations or purchasing power.

The energy going into BPA's electrical system from hundreds of generators has to be matched second-by-second with the energy going out to thousands of customers or the system is disrupted.

In the past, BPA has provided balancing services using its hydro system to provide more or less electricity as needed. But if a hydroelectric generator is being used for balancing, it can only run at partial capacity so generation can be ramped up quickly if more electricity is needed.

The pilot project instead is based on demand response, creating a network of electricity customers willing to reduce use to balance the system.

Under the agreement, Energy Northwest will find and make arrangements with users to form a large group able and willing to limit the amount of electricity used for periods of time in exchange for payment.

It could include a range of users, said John Steigers, Energy Northwest lead manager for the demand response project.

One group of Idaho homes has boxes attached to water heaters that temporarily shut them down when power demand is high. Commercial users could be interested. For instance, a group of sawmills could agree to switch continuously operated fans from high to low power for up to 90 minutes. Utilities also could be signed up.

The agreement calls for Energy Northwest to have users willing to cut back on a combined 19 megawatts by 2015. That's about twice as much power as is used by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland. The demonstration project then could be ramped up to 25 megawatts.

PNNL will play a role in the project with its Electricity Infrastructure Operations Center, a Department of Energy-funded incubator facility for such projects.

Energy Northwest will develop a Demand Response Aggregation Control System, or DRACS. It would be essentially a computer program to perform data gathering, monitoring, control and communications and make decisions on how to respond to any BPA requests. It would be based at the PNNL Electricity Infrastructure Operations Center.

Demand response programs are used elsewhere in the nation, Steigers said. But the Northwest has had relatively low-cost hydropower, flexibility with hydropower and surplus power that has slowed adoption of the programs here.

However, hydropower is becoming less flexible because of demands on water for other needs, including endangered species and recreation, Steigers said.

At the same time, more balancing is needed as wind generation makes up a quarter to a third of possible electricity generation resources. When the wind stops blowing, other electrical generation must be available to quickly replace its electrical production to balance power on the grid.

"This regional demand response program will be the first-of-its-kind program in the Northwest led by public power, for public power," said Jim Gaston, Energy Northwest general manager of energy services and development.

BPA sought offers for demand proposals last year before picking Energy Northwest, a Washington agency comprising 27 public power utilities. Most demand response programs in the nation are led by private companies.

The arrangement could lead to a long-term role for Energy Northwest to look out for the interest of public power ratepayers, Steigers said.

The demand response project is expected to start up in January 2015 and run through January 2016 with options to extend for an additional year. BPA is providing Energy Northwest $2 million for the pilot project, much of which is expected to be paid as incentives to customers signing up for the project.

Annette Cary
Energy Northwest Picked for BPA Pilot Project
The News Tribune, September 18, 2014

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