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Commentaries and editorials

NW Governors Seek Federal Funds to Study
'Pumped Storage' to Back Up Wind Power

by Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin, June 5, 2009

The governors of Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington have signed a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Energy supporting funding for the Bonneville Power Administration to study technologies for integrating wind and other renewable energy into the Northwest power grid.

One of these studies will evaluate potential sites for pumped-storage power plants that would provide a "carbon-free resource" for temporarily storing energy generated by wind farms and other renewable resources.

Pumped storage is a form of hydropower in which water is pumped uphill to a reservoir during low-demand periods, such as late at night or very early in the morning, and then allowed to flow downhill to turbines during high-demand periods.

BPA, a federal power-marketing authority under the Department of Energy, is seeking funding to study the potential for new generating plants, including pumped-storage facilities, that could be built to support renewable energy, which can be highly intermittent.

Wind power is particularly intermittent and must be backed up by another power source to ensure its reliability. One of the studies will begin by identifying and evaluating all potential sources of integrating wind that will include, at a minimum, pumped storage, demand-response programs, flywheel storage, smart grid innovations, hydrogen proposals, and conventional gas-fired generation.

In their letter, the governors point out that the 2,000 megawatts of wind power currently distributed by Bonneville constitutes the largest single demand for backup power from the Bonneville system. Bonneville relies on hydropower for this purpose. Bonneville expects to have 6,000 megawatts of wind power in its system by 2013, but its supply of backup hydropower will be exhausted by 2011.

Other utilities are facing the same issue with the proliferation of renewable energy. That is spurring interest across the West in finding new supplies to help integrate intermittent renewable power with power provided from other generating plants and maintain "a reliable, adequate electricity supply" as required by the Northwest Power Act.

Here is the text of the May 28 letter sent to Chu and signed by Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, and Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire:

Dear Secretary Chu:

We are united in support of the Bonneville Power Administration's (BPA's) recent requests for funding to study future sources of capacity and flexibility and assess potential pumped storage sites for integrating wind and other renewable resources into the Pacific Northwest's energy system.

With 2,000 megawatts currently interconnected and operating in the region, wind power is the single largest resource consuming the system's balancing reserves. While the Northwest's hydroelectric system is a valuable resource to integrate wind into the power system, there is a limit to how much it can support.

The total amount of wind energy in the BPA control area is expected to be 6,000 megawatts by 2013, although the hydroelectric system's ability to supply balancing reserves is projected to be exhausted sometime in 2011. Consequently, there is broad technical and policy consensus across the Western United States to develop increased system flexibility, energy storage, and balancing reserves to manage the rapid expansion of wind generation and other intermittent renewable resources. We believe that pumped storage technology warrants further analysis and that funding is integral to supporting a better understanding of the process and its application in the Northwest's energy system.

The Pacific Northwest, with its significant hydroelectric resources and growing commitment to wind energy, would be an excellent proving ground for this emissions-free technology. We respectfully urge you to approve BPA's request for funding for this purpose. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.


Staff
NW Governors Seek Federal Funds to Study 'Pumped Storage' to Back Up Wind Power
Columbia Basin Bulletin, June 5, 2009

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