Washington Journal of Environmental Law & Policy


Drew Pearsall


The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) is the primary transmitter of power in the Pacific Northwest. Charged with operating the federal dams on the Columbia River, the BPA also maintains and operates 15,000 miles of high-voltage power lines that transmit power produced by federal and non-federal power sources alike. Under federal law, the BPA must accept onto its transmission system power from non-federal sources in a manner that is fair, non-preferential, and does not discriminate against non-federal sources. Recently, strong snowpack and periods of heavy runoff have stressed the Federal Columbia River Power System and has led to a problem: the overgeneration of hydropower for which there is not enough capacity on the transmission system. Compounding this problem is the fact that wind power generation has greatly increased in the Pacific Northwest over the past decade, with no sign of significantly slowing down. The over-generation of power, in conjunction with the BPA’s statutory mandate to accept non-federal power sources, has created a challenge for the BPA: to maintain the reliability of its stressed power transmission system while fulfilling its obligation to accept, in a fair and non-discriminatory manner, power from both federal and non-federal sources. In an attempt to accomplish this task, the BPA began implementing a curtailment policy beginning in 2011 that, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, unlawfully discriminated against non-federal wind power producers. The BPA has since revised and updated its displacement policy; nevertheless, the BPA’s policies continue to unfairly discriminate against wind power producers by placing a preference on the generation and transmission of federal hydropower at the expense of non-federal wind power. Not only do these policies violate the BPA’s statutory obligations and requirements of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but they also hurt the ability for utility companies in Washington to meet obligations to diversify energy portfolios as required by the Washington Energy Independence Act. Because wind power is the dominant renewable energy resource available to satisfy Washington’s new renewable portfolio standards (RPS), its curtailment is problematic for utility companies and consumers alike. This Comment evaluates the BPA’s past and existing curtailment polices, their impact on the ability to satisfy the goals of the Washington Energy Independence Act, and the ability for utility companies in Washington to meet RPS requirements.

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