The Oregonian ran an interesting front page article today (July 21, 2008) about the expected explosive growth of wind energy in the Pacific Northwest. The good news (or what should have been the good news) is that wind developers are planning to quadruple the amount of wind power in the region.
The Bonneville Power Administration’s recent transmission "open season" produced substantial "pay to play" commitments from major wind developers (including national players IBERDROLA, Horizon Wind Energy, and enXco, among others) and regional utilities, who are together planning to add more than 4,700 MW of installed wind capacity to our region over the next five years. (The article reports that the region’s transmission system now handles about 1,490 MW of installed wind capacity, which will rise to about 2,000 MW by the end of 2008.) Once the five year build out is finished, about 8%of the region’s electricity needs would be served by wind, which would be among the highest percentages in the nation–wind currently serves about 1% of all US energy needs on average, rising to highs of around 5% in windy Iowa and Minnesota.
Unfortunately, the morning print edition of The Oregonian ran a somewhat sensational headline announcing that "Wind power could blow grid," adding that "utilities and developers want to quadruple Northwest’s output, but power lines can’t hold that much more." It would have been more accurate to announce "Wind to Power 2,000,000 Homes," but what do I know about selling newspapers? Anyway, the whole point of the BPA’s open season was to lay the groundwork for building the new transmission infrastructure that will enable us to make effective use of all that wind without "blowing the grid." In fact, most of the proposed projects won’t be built if the transmission infrastructure isn’t improved–the crisis that the headline predicted really can’t happen. Sadly, a large number of people who don’t read "below the fold" aren’t going to grasp this little nuance and are going to come away with the impression that "wind is bad." Challenging, yes–bad, no.
Here’s the on line version of the article, more plausibly entitled "Rush of wind to hit Pacific Northwest."