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Wind Energy of No Use in the Pacific Northwest (holds true for many places)

James Conca – Forbes — January 16, 2014

I’m all for a diverse energy portfolio and truly believe we can get to the 1/3-1/3-1/3 mix that we’ve put forward by 2040. A third fossil, a third nuclear and a third renewable would be sustainable and ethical.

Having said that, Location! Location! Location! holds true as much for energy as for real estate. There is such a thing as the geographic component. It makes sense to develop more solar in the southwest than in Maine, to have hydroelectric plants on rivers, and to build wind in windy areas to replace coal generation and lower CO2 emissions.

Although this might be obvious on first blush, the concept of optimizing energy sources to physiographic regions really gets trashed when tax laws and State mandates bully their way into the mix (EarthtechlingHydro Takes Dive For Wind).

Just look at the Pacific Northwest.

The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) administers most of the electricity generation in the Pacific Northwest region, defined as Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana west of the ContinentalDivide. Hydroelectric produces two-thirds of our electricity. Because of this, the Pacific Northwest is the lowest carbon-emitting region in America. Over the last few years, wind has expanded dramatically, up to about 7% of production. Nuclear, gas and coal together produce the other 30%.

Because the region has so much renewable hydroelectric energy, the State had to step in and declare hydro to be not a renewable in order to use renewable mandates and credits to force more wind development (Wire). This was rather bizarre since all discussion of renewables – you know, those great pie-charts illustrating how large the renewable share of the mix has become – always includes hydro as a renewable.

But the hour-by-hour electricity generation tells a special story. The figure below is a graph of BPA’s continuous electricity demand and supply for the week of Jan 7, 2014. During this week, the region experienced some significant, and some would say steady, winds on the BPA grid, the best we’ve seen in the last year (it kept me awake all week).  Steady is a relative term, however, and the variability of wind’s 4,200 MW-installed capacity still drives BPA controllers insane.

But notice that the thermal generation (nuclear, gas and coal) does not vary much at all. It is the hydro component that has to constantly cycle up and down to adjust to the demand and to wind’s intermittent supply.  This competition between two renewable sources means that the relatively carbon-free accruable hydro energy must be shed to take on the wind supply, with no net benefit in carbon emissions or energy cost.   Continue reading here…..


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