Better Building: The Responsible Developer's Blog

When Green Conflicts: Wind vs. Water


Do Responsible Developers anticipate that Green Energy will create conflicts?

Yes, but unfortunately those conflicts may not be easily resolved.  Here's a timely example.

If you have recently driven over I-90 into Kittitas County and crossed over the Columbia River down past Wanapum Dam, you probably noted two interesting things.  First, many of the wind turbines have been shut down and two, enormous amounts of water are being released from Wanapum and other dams.

As a resident of the Pacific NW you probably also know that spring is when dams and wind turbines generate the most power, providing a huge increase in available power to businesses and consumers, a great economic benefit. 

In a year like 2011 where the PNW has very high precipitation (snowpack) it can be anticipated that the increased runoff may result in two decisions by public utility operators like the Bonnevillle Power Administration that may result in decreased economic benefits to some.  The first decision is to prevent flooding by allowing more water to be spilled over the dams. The second decision is that due to abundant electrical power, wind turbines may be temporarily shut down.

Either decision may also have at least two unfortunate economic costs.  One, huge spills of water over dams can increase dissolved oxygen levels in the surface water below dams, killing young salmon and pen raised fish that cannot escape by moving into deeper water with more oxygen.  Second, the available surplus of hydroelectric power may trigger a decision to shut down wind turbines which in turn, shuts off the flow of revenue and tax incentives.

The first decision to release water earlier this month has reportedly resulted in massive fish kills on the Columbia.  Killing fish always incurs the wrath of sportfishing consumers and commercial fish farm operators.  According to a Seattle Times report the loss in revenue to fish farms alone in 2011 may run into the tens of millions.  

The second decision has incurred the wrath of the American Wind Energy Association.  Rob Gramlich, the Senior Vice President for Public Policy, recently stated that "No one is above the law and no one can break contracts as Bonneville has.  Commerce can't exist without contract sanctity. This will have a chilling effect on investment.  There's a better way.  I think there's a preference for keeping certain types of generation running and to benefit certain customers and not others.  If you do the math, you can see we’re into the millions already in damages and we’ll be moving into the tens of millions of dollars.  I believe we will see legal action very soon."

So to avoid these seasonal and therefore reasonably foreseeable Green Energy conflicts, is there a middle ground to avoid  "power struggles" costing millions in damages and millions more in the form of protracted court battles?  Hopefully, yes.  The parties may use information in the 2007 Northwest Wind Integration Action Plan and seek guidance from the BPA, the Department of Energy, the Obama administration and other public and private actors that can work toward reconciliation of these and other energy conflicts.   

It is the responsible thing to do.


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