Washington State Utility Says “No More Wind”

A September story in the Tacoma News Tribune details how one municipal utility in Washington is done with wind due to its high cost and low value to the reliability of the electric grid.

“Benton Public Utility District, based in Kennewick, has about 55,000 residential, commercial and industrial connections. Most of its electricity supply comes from the Bonneville Power Administration, the federal marketing agency for dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers and for one nuclear plant. Eighty percent of Benton PUD’s total supply comes from hydro; about 5 percent is generated by wind, through power purchase contracts with the operators of two wind projects in the state.”

in a recently released report, “Wind Power and Clean Energy Policy Perspectives,” the utility’s commissioners say they “do not support further wind power development in the Northwest.”

More large-scale wind farms they say, will “contribute very little to keeping the regional power grid reliable and will not help Benton PUD solve our seasonal energy deficit problems” (when it needs to purchase additional power for winter and summer peaks), will drive up customer rates, won’t make a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, will hurt revenues that utilities like Benton receive from the sale of surplus hydropower and will needlessly clutter up the “scenic hillsides, canyons and desert vistas in our region for little if any net environmental benefit.”

“We are continuing to sound the alarm regarding the unacceptably high risk of power grid blackouts in the Pacific Northwest being precipitated by overly aggressive clean energy policies and deepening dependence on wind power to replace retiring coal plants,” the commissioners say in a news release. “Benton PUD is calling on Governor Inslee and our state legislators to learn from California’s experience and to believe what utilities in Washington State are telling them. Rolling blackouts jeopardize the health, safety and well-being of all citizens and cannot be accepted in a region that, thanks to hydropower, is the envy of the nation when it comes to clean and low-cost electricity …

“While development of wind farms may be politically fashionable and appeal to many in the general public as a harmonization of nature with electricity production, the science and economics indicate powering modern civilization with intermittent generation resources like wind and solar power comes at a high financial and environmental cost.”

Wow. This is the kind of strong statement we need utility companies to make in Minnesota. Instead, companies like Xcel Energy promote unreliable renewables to increase their corporate profits and garner bigger bonuses for their CEO. Companies like Great River Energy (GRE) who should take a stand instead do the opposite.

Rather than standing up for the Coal Creek power plant in North Dakota, which delivers some of the most affordable electricity in the country, GRE declared their intention to close or sell the plant and instead purchase electricity from the regional electricity market.

GRE announced that this decision will make the company’s power supply resources more than 95 percent carbon free, but it would be an enormous mistake to think the electricity the company uses will come from power plants that 95 percent carbon-dioxide free. In fact, GRE will still likely buy much of its electricity from the Coal Creek plant, the company simply won’t own the plant.

Leadership entails doing the right thing even if it is difficult, and the Benton Public Utility District showed true leadership by prioritizing the reliability and affordability of its power grid.