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Hydro storage can boost value of wind energy

Wind is a great source of power. It is clean and plentiful. But it is hard to rely on as a major power source unless you figure out where to get power when the wind isn't blowing. In the power industry this is called "firming." NorthWestern Energy firms the power from the Judith Gap Wind Farm by purchasing contracts from other power companies. The problem is the contracts are not long-term and the prices are not stable....On the other hand, wind blows when we don't need power.

One of the biggest public-works projects Montana has seen in years is the rehabilitation of the St. Mary's canal. The canal takes water from high in the mountains of the Blackfeet Reservation to the Milk River drainage to the east. This project is vital to the economic health and well-being of communities across the Hi-Line. Most people think about St Mary's canal as a water project for irrigators and municipalities. But there are other potential benefits.

The St. Mary's project could expand wind power production and help control rates in Montana. We ought to take advantage of that opportunity. Let me explain:

Wind is a great source of power. It is clean and plentiful. But it is hard to rely on as a major power source unless you figure out where to get power when the wind isn't blowing. In the power industry this is called "firming." NorthWestern Energy firms the power from the Judith Gap Wind Farm by purchasing contracts from other power companies. The problem is the contracts are not long-term and the prices are not stable.

Power on demand

On the other hand, wind blows when we don't need power. When a storm comes through at 3 a.m., the wind farm produces power... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

One of the biggest public-works projects Montana has seen in years is the rehabilitation of the St. Mary's canal. The canal takes water from high in the mountains of the Blackfeet Reservation to the Milk River drainage to the east. This project is vital to the economic health and well-being of communities across the Hi-Line. Most people think about St Mary's canal as a water project for irrigators and municipalities. But there are other potential benefits.

The St. Mary's project could expand wind power production and help control rates in Montana. We ought to take advantage of that opportunity. Let me explain:

Wind is a great source of power. It is clean and plentiful. But it is hard to rely on as a major power source unless you figure out where to get power when the wind isn't blowing. In the power industry this is called "firming." NorthWestern Energy firms the power from the Judith Gap Wind Farm by purchasing contracts from other power companies. The problem is the contracts are not long-term and the prices are not stable.

Power on demand

On the other hand, wind blows when we don't need power. When a storm comes through at 3 a.m., the wind farm produces power nobody needs. So we have two related problems. Wind farms sometimes don't produce power when you need it and sometimes produce power when you don't need it.

That's where the St. Mary's project provides a major opportunity. We can solve much of the wind problem with a simple technology called "pumped hydro storage." It would involve building two reservoirs connected by big pipe and putting power generating turbines in the pipe. When the wind is blowing and you don't need the power, use it to pump water from the lower reservoir to the upper reservoir. When the wind isn't blowing and you need power, release the water from the upper reservoir and let it flow through power-generating turbines into the lower reservoir.

Pumped hydro storage is currently used all over the world. The Bath County Pumped Storage Station in Virginia can generate more than 2,000 megawatts. That is almost twice the average demand of all NorthWestern Energy customers combined. It has been operating since 1985.

St. Mary's potential

That brings us back to the St Mary's. Pumped hydro should be part of the project. Consider:

• The Blackfeet Tribe has a longstanding interest in wind power and is critical to approving the St. Mary's project. Their involvement in a pumped-hydro system would bring numerous economic benefits to the area and assure that the tribe sees concrete benefits from the use of waters originating on the reservation.

• Completion of the Montana-Alberta power line, which is already heavily supported by wind developers, could provide transmission for firmed wind power coming from the area.

• Wind developers could get better prices for their power by having access to firming power from a pumped-hydro system.

• Use of the water in such a system provides additional revenue without consuming large volumes of water. Once the reservoirs are filled, the only net loss of water is evaporation.

• Incorporating real clean and green energy as a part of the project will open additional sources of funding.

Montana's utility system is aging. Almost everyone agrees that we will have to add significant new sources of power over the next 20 years. We can choose the old path - large fossil-fuel-burning plants - or we can choose a new path - smaller, more varied sources of power and requiring that they have minimal environmental impacts. This project represents the new path. We ought to pursue it.

Ken Toole of Helena is a former state senator who was elected to the Montana Public Service Commission in November.



Source: http://www.billingsgazette....

JUN 2 2007
https://www.windaction.org/posts/9225-hydro-storage-can-boost-value-of-wind-energy
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