Federal regulators on Wednesday ruled in favor of Northwest wind power generators who objected to being ordered to shut down at times this spring when the Columbia River basin was brimming with water and hydropower dams were running at maximum capacity.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said the Bonneville Power Administration must come up with new rules that don't discriminate against the wind generators. Many of them are utility company subsidiaries that participated in a wind farm boom in recent years encouraged by state and federal incentives.
Bonneville manages much of the electrical transmission in the Northwest and said its options were limited this spring: At times, it had more power than the grid could handle or could be exported, and the water couldn't be shunted away from the hydroelectric generators because that could create conditions fatal to endangered fish.
Customers got the power they needed, and the windmill shutdowns amounted to a tussle within the electric power industry over who pays for what.
Wind generators don't get the government incentives unless they actually generate power.
The commission's decision could put pressure on Bonneville to pay wind generators to shut down in similar circumstances to compensate for the lost benefits, or to take other steps whose costs could be passed on to the agency's traditional public power customers.
BPA's service territory includes Idaho, Oregon, Washington and parts of Montana, California, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.