BPA: FERC decision on Idaho wind will not affect dispute

Officials with the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) do not expect FERC’s Sept. 20 decision preventing utilities from unilaterally curtailing wind energy purchased under a long-term power purchase agreement (PPA) to correlate with a similar conflict the agency is facing.

FERC ruled that Idaho Power could not curtail wind generation unilaterally during times of low demand, even if such purchases would require the utility to dispatch higher cost, less efficient resources or to make base load resources unavailable for serving the next anticipated load (Docket No. EL12-74).

While the circumstances of the Idaho Power case appear similar to the conflict between BPA and wind producers it has curtailed during times of low demand in the spring of 2011 and the spring and summer of 2012, BPA does not expect the ruling to affect its case because the Idaho Power ruling “has to do with PURPA [while] our issues do not,” a BPA spokesperson told TransmissionHub Sept. 21.

In the Idaho ruling, FERC said PURPA “does not override a utility’s legally enforceable obligation to purchase from QFs pursuant to a contract with fixed avoided-cost rates established at the time the obligation is incurred.”

By contrast, BPA curtailed generation during times of low demand because of too little room on the agency’s transmission system, limits on the amount of water it can send over the spillways of dams on the Columbia River, and the generation limits of other resources.

BPA curtailed 97,500 MWh of generation in 2011 and 49,654 MWh of generation so far in 2012, replacing the curtailed generation with federal hydropower.

The curtailments prompted wind producers to file a complaint with FERC, accusing the BPA of violating contracts for firm transmission rights and of treating them in a discriminatory manner. FERC responded with an order finding that BPA’s curtailment policy represented noncomparable transmission service and requiring BPA to file a revised tariff to provide transmission service on conditions comparable to those it gives itself.

Calls seeking comments from Northwest wind producers were not returned by press time Sept. 21.

BPA does not receive revenue when replacing renewable energy with federal hydropower, and BPA officials have estimated the agency’s financial exposure for reimbursing wind producers for the shutdowns could be as high as $50m.

BPA filed a protocol with FERC on March 6 that is intended to help reimburse wind generators for those lost credits, but that protocol has been widely criticized by area wind producers as not going far enough (Docket No. EL11-44-000). FERC has not yet ruled on the protocol and a FERC spokesperson previously told TransmissionHub that it was not possible to predict when the agency would issue a ruling.