Northwest grid adds electricity market flexibility
By Christina Williams
Editor, Sustainable Business Oregon
A more flexible Northwest electricity market will better accommodate renewable energy sources.
The Northwest energy market got a little more nimble Tuesday with the announcement that three regional power transmission groups and 15 utilities will start scheduling power transmission on a half-hour basis.
The ability to adjust power according to demand in 30-minute increments — as opposed to the hour-by-hour planning that was standard until now — will add flexibility to the grid and better accommodate the peaks and valleys associated with renewable power sources such as wind and solar.
While hourly markets work well for power plants that can adjust to demand, it works less well for intermittent sources such as wind power.
"You try to forecast, but if the wind picks up over the second half of the hour, you don't have any way of selling that power," said Michael Millstein, spokesman for BPA. "This allows utilities to sell that power and make money form it."
While the intra-hour scheduling, as it's called, would likely not have solved the issue with over-generation of hydro power that caused BPA to request the shut down of wind farms in its system this spring, it's one more step toward a more flexible grid.
"It won't change the over-generation issue," said Paul Vogel, spokesman for PacifiCorp, "But it's working together on issues like this that will solve these problems in the future."
BPA worked closely with the Wind Integration Forum to come up with the plan for shorter-term power scheduling for buying, selling and transmitting energy.
"They didn't do this in a vacuum," Vogel said. "They've been working on it for some time."
While the wind-integration controversy is receding with the Pacific Northwest snow pack, the BPA-led cooperative move toward updating the regional grid is welcome. It's also being called by officials one of the most significant changes to the West's wholesale electricity markets in many years.
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