Changing winds: Idaho Power releases study on impact of small wind farms

TWIN FALLS, IDAHO - It takes energy to maintain energy from small wind farms.

That was the conclusion of Idaho Power's recent study on the impact of wind power.

Among other findings, the Operational Impact report said that small wind farms - those which produce 10 megawatts or fewer - require the assistance of hydroelectric power to compensate for generating fluctuations caused by changes in wind speed.

Idaho Power uses its hydroelectric sources to provide additional energy when small wind farms are unable to stay at predetermined power levels.

The report estimates that it costs Idaho Power $10.72 per megawatt hour to offset such fluctuations. The utility wants wind farm operators to pay that expense.

Wind farm developers are paid an average of $64 per megawatt hour for farms built in 2008.

Jeff Beaman, director of corporate communications for Idaho Power, said the cost is an average of what it costs Idaho Power to adjust flows at dams for backup energy.

"The dams are already being fully utilized to produce energy for the benefit of customers," Beaman said. "This firming (backup) requirement places another demand on the hydro system."

According to the report, hydroelectric generation is near capacity in Idaho. If additional wind farms are added to the system, the state would have to consider alternatives to hydro such as coal- fired power plants in order to provide backup electricity to wind farms.

Beaman said the report is the first step in what will be a lengthy discussion.

"This is the beginning of a continued learning process of how wind will be integrated into an energy generating system," Beaman said. "Idaho Power recommends that the (Idaho Public Utilities Commission) sanction a workshop where all the interested parties put this study under the microscope and work through it together."


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