High River Flows Put Electric Grid to Test
by Tom Banse
KUOW, June 22, 2010
Fast flowing rivers have put the region's electricity grid to the test this month. The system was awash in so much hydropower last week that dam owners were literally giving electricity away for free. Correspondent Tom Banse reports utility managers are pausing now to take stock.
I'm standing beside Bonneville Dam. In front of me, the Columbia River is simply frothing from all the water pouring over the dam as well as squirting out the turbines. Over my shoulder, there's a loud hum coming from the powerhouse due to the heavy load. The unusually heavy rains earlier in June are working their way through the hydro system. Bonneville Power Administration spokesman Michael Milstein says the wholesaler had so much surplus electricity at times, it was begging utilities to replace coal, gas or nuclear with free hydropower.
Michael Milstein: "So it was kind of a remarkable situation. For at least several days, the Northwest was operating almost entirely off renewable power."
Milstein says one issue BPA is studying is how to balance out surges in wind power when the hydro system is maxed out and can't turn on a dime. Bonneville is testing a computer program that can idle wind turbines automatically to maintain stability in the grid. I'm Tom Banse at Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River.
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