"Wind farms in the Pacific Northwest – built with government subsidies and maintained with tax credits for every megawatt produced – are now getting paid to shut down as the federal agency charged with managing the region's electricity grid says there's an oversupply of renewable power at certain times of the year," Q13 Fox reports.
Keep in mind, as mentioned in the above, these companies were built with government subsidies and have been maintained with tax credits. To put it plainly: the government is offering to compensate companies that it subsidized and then ordered to stop doing what they were subsidized to do in the first place.
Does any of this make sense?
“The problem arose during the late spring and early summer last year,” Fox explains, “Rapid snow melt filled the Columbia River Basin. The water rushed through the 31 dams run by the Bonneville Power Administration [BPA], a federal agency based in Portland, Ore., allowing for peak hydropower generation. At the very same time, the wind howled, leading to maximum wind power production.”
Because demand was disproportionate to supply, the BPA shut down the wind farms for approximately 200 hours over the course of 38 days.
"It's the one system in the world where in real time, moment to moment, you have to produce as much energy as is being consumed," BPA spokesman Doug Johnson said.
Watch the Q13 Fox news update:
Because of the shutdown, Bonneville is offering to compensate up to half of the revenues lost by the wind companies – which could be as much as $50 million a year.
But who foots the bill? That's right, the energy users.
"We require taxpayers to subsidize the production of renewable energy, and now we want ratepayers to pay renewable energy companies when they lose money?" asked Todd Myers, director of the Center for the Environment of the Washington Policy Center.
"That's a ridiculous system that keeps piling more and more money into a system that's unsustainable," Myers said.
Green energy advocates stand with Myers in their opposition to the BPA's oversupply solution.
"It sends a very poor signal to the market about doing business in the Northwest," said Rachel Shimshak, executive director of the Renewable Northwest Project. "We want the Northwest to be a good place to do business."
In response to the outcry, the BPA says, “its hands are tied by environmental regulations,” according to Q13 Fox.
Officials argue that if they shut down hydropower stations instead of the wind farms, endangered salmon could be put in harm's way.
“It's counter-intuitive,” Fox explains, “because for decades environmental advocates have complained about dams killing fish by sending them through the turbines on their way to the ocean.”
“But spilling too much water over the dam can apparently also be harmful. It can create too much oxygen in the water at the base of the dam, which has also killed salmon,” the report adds.
But fish advocates (yes, that’s a real thing) are unconvinced.
“Save Our Wild Salmon is encouraging BPA to test salmon downstream of the dams to determine if their being impacted by high oxygen levels, and only stop the overflows when they have proof fish are being harmed,” according to the Fox report.
Pat Ford, the group's executive director, believes Bonneville is using the salmon as an excuse to keep wind power subservient to hydropower.
"I think it's driven by Bonneville's customers who are worried about the increases in wind generation in the Northwest and what it means to them," Ford said.
BPA submitted its plan Tuesday to the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission (FERC) and is awaiting its approval.