Gusting winds and swelling rivers bless the U.S. Pacific Northwest with an abundance of renewable energy resources in the spring and early summer. So much, in fact, that at times in recent years the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), a federal utility, has forced wind farm owners to curb their output to keep electricity generation in balance with the rise and fall of demand on the grid.
Now a new solution for the region’s seasonal energy glut is on the table. Recent research from scientists at BPA and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory suggests porous rocks deep in the Earth could store the wind’s intermittent power and make it possible to deploy renewable energy on command.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
This is much more than an academic exercise in a region that’s home to one of the largest networks of hydroelectric dams in the United States, a recent boom in wind installations, and state mandates for renewables on the grid. For wind farms, powering down turbines can mean giving up tax credits and millions of dollars in revenue.
BPA has said its hands are tied: It can’t spill more water over Columbia Basin dams without exceeding limits designed to protect salmon and steelhead, and it’s unable to send more electricity via existing transmission lines to buyers in California. Proponents of renewables, meanwhile, have called for scaling back generation from coal or nuclear plants before giving wind the boot. And the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, is requiring BPA to establish a better way to handle oversupply without discriminating against wind power.