Washington News Service: SEATTLE - Clean energy advocates in the Northwest say the Bonneville Power Administration's decision to reduce the rate charged on wind energy transmitted from Montana will do little to encourage renewable energy use in the region.
Bonneville Power announced it would reduce what is known as the intertie rate - a charge on the use of transmission lines in western Montana - by 15 percent through 2019. Jeff Fox, Montana policy manager with Renewable Northwest, said the rate reduction is unlikely to encourage use of the system.
"I would call the reduction an insufficient consolation prize," Fox said. "It really sort of acknowledges the problem and corrects some errors with the fee but doesn't go far enough in that the rate really needs to be eliminated."
Fox compared it to a toll road that no one is using. The barrier for renewables is too high to access the transmission lines, and so Bonneville Power doesn't actually see the benefit for charging this rate. Less than 10 percent of the capacity where this rate applies is currently in use, according to the Northwest Energy Coalition.
Fox said elimination of the intertie rate has almost unprecedented support from Washington, Oregon, and Montana politicians. He said eliminating the rate would open up the wind market for Montana and make it available to metropolitan areas in the Northwest that need it most.
It would also provide power when the region needs it the most. Northwest utility use peaks in the winter.
"It produces most of its energy during the winter. It also produces most of its energy during the day, and that's really important for the Northwest, which tends to produce the greatest amount of energy when the hydro-dams are at their fullest in the spring months," Fox said. "So, this is a resource that fits in well to the Northwest."
Bonneville Power acknowledged in its decision to reduce the intertie rate that there were inconsistencies in how the rate was calculated. The importance of wind energy is likely to increase as Colstrip, a coal-fired power plant providing power to the Northwest, is retired over the next few years.