I guess I could have titled this “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”, but there’s mostly just good and lots of ugly.
I’ve often been critical of the electric utility business for not being at the forefront in communicating the pratfalls, foibles, disaster of adopting various renewable energy schemes. It seemed to me that they would be in the best position to know what was happening. So, they should be in the best position to present the case to the public. And, they are. Only, when they try to communicate it comes out ….. well it comes out like this…..
Standing at the center of this maelstrom is the Idaho PUC, which opened a new case last year to review how the state’s utilities purchase electricity from qualifying facilities (QF) certified under the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (PURPA). That review will run the gamut from the terms of contracts to the method used for calculating avoided costs—i.e., the savings that utilities realize in buying QF power, and which determine the purchase price that utilities must pay to QFs. (See, Notice of Review, Order 32352, Idaho PUC Case No. GNR-E-11-03, Sept. 1, 2011.)
That was the start of the second chapter of a 6 page article discussing energy difficulties the Idaho grid is having. The rest is much of the same.
BTW, QF = renewable wind energy. Avoided costs = savings. I won’t bother with the rest of the jargon, but, I will answer if asked in comments. I’ll try to parse this for the reader. For some, this may not be required, but I think for most, their eyes would gloss over and all would be lost if someone didn’t break it down to understandable verbiage. Link at the end.
The first page wasn’t bad, but then, most of it was a repost of an ad and a vague explanation.
“The huge influx of industrial wind projects forced onto our system is raising customer rates and threatening the reliability of our electrical grid. Federal law requires us to buy energy from renewable energy projects, but we don’t think Idahoans should be required to pay inflated rates for electricity that is often not needed at all.
“That’s why we asked the Idaho Public Utilities Commission to change the way prices are set for these projects. We invite you to be heard on this important issue.”
The graph shows the dramatic increase of wind energy placed to be purchased by Idaho electric utilities. So, what’s the problem? They’ve got a lot of wind energy. So what?
The problem is how it is being utilized. It was thought, that the wind energy would be utilized as a peak load supplement. However, as we’ve discussed about other places around the world, buying the renewables is a priority.
Now, in this case there are two issues to discuss. The first is cost. Baseload energy is cheap. It’s the stuff that the utilities know is going to be demanded. They don’t have to do anything special to provide the baseload. Fire up the plants, and let them hum. The expense comes when peak demand is higher than what they’ve anticipated and then they have to buy additional energy from elsewhere. This is expensive. It is assumed that the utilities would always have use for the wind energy. So, it is with this thought which goes into calculating the “cost avoidance”, or the reimbursement rate for the wind gen facilities.
This brings us to our second issue. Wind energy purchase is a priority. Of course, wind runs on its own schedule. What they are seeing is that the wind is blowing during the lighting or baseload periods. So, what happens is that the baseload generation plants (mostly coal in this case) have to wind down to allow for the wind energy. And, then the next predictable thing happens…… the wind stops blowing! So, the utilities have to purchase some very expensive electricity simply to keep the grid up. For coal plants it can take days before they’re able to come back on line. Rinse and repeat the process. In the gobblygook verbiage of the people in the industry, this causes a negative cost avoidance. In human terminology, this means there are no savings in buying wind energy, worse it’s costing people dearly.
In the end, the people of Idaho will have to pay more for their electricity and the grid will become horribly unstable. Oh, did I mention there is no electric generation job which pays you not to sell electricity? Even gas plants can’t just turn on a dime.
In summary, Idaho has found themselves in a very similar position as Germany. The renewable energy is costing a lot of money. It’s costing jobs. It’s destabilizing the grid. The difference is, Idaho is suffering under federal regulations. Germany can choose to turn this off or on at their leisure or at least have a very large voice in this determination. Idaho cannot and does not.
For the sleep deprived individuals, read the 6 page article here. It’s actually very interesting. It demonstrates a shift in some state utility offices position. As always, there’s much more to say and discuss, but for brevity, I’ll leave it here for now.