My Two Cents on Wind-March 2012 PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 05 March 2012 12:14

By Commissioner  Dave Timmons, District 2

You are probably tired of hearing about the (good or bad) of wind power, and I am too. But the impact on each of us is a higher electric bill that maybe we shouldn’t have to pay. I read Commissioner Casey’s article last month, and I didn’t intend to write about the same topic. But then it happened that Liz Anderson sent me an article to read, which I did, and here I am, writing about the same old stuff. I need to start this article with a disclaimer. Anything that causes me to consider the possibility of raising our customers’ electric rates does not sit well with me and I am instantly against it. I am not anti-green energy or anti-wind energy, and I know there are many areas across our country that benefit tremendously from this energy source. What bothers (kindest word I could think of) me is that our GHPUD customers have to buy something that we do not need.

With that in mind, I read Liz’s email containing an article from the NW Energy Coalition on the subject of I-937, the Clean Energy Initiative voters passed in 2006. It had some pretty impressive claims regarding what this initiative has accomplished since it was passed.  It stated, “I-937 remains the single best tool in our state to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, create clean energy jobs that will boost our local economy, and keep us on track to a clean energy future. Since its passage, I-937 has created about $7.5 billion in new investments in this state, creating 7,200 jobs across the region.  More than $40 million in property tax revenue has been generated for local communities to pay for schools, firefighters and other public services.  And through I-937 our state has realized record energy conservation, saving nearly $70 million on consumers’ electric bills.” My first thought when I read this was, “CENSORED, CENSORED, CENSORED, I don’t see it that way.”

I am certainly not an expert on I-937, so my scrutiny may be a little flawed, but after reading this, there were a couple things that troubled me because they just didn’t add up. First, there was a $7.5 billion dollar investment generating 7200 jobs. If my math is right, that is over $1 million per job, that when all is said and done are being paid for by ratepayers who are mandated to support an industry producing a product in an oversaturated market  Drive Hwy 14 from Vancouver, WA towards Richland along the beautiful Columbia River and eventually you will see miles and miles of Wind Turbines on both sides of the river.

Wind certainly has its benefits. I would guess that the number one advantage of all these generators is they are non-polluting when producing power, and I think that is a huge advantage. It is a clean, renewable power source not affected by sunlight (it can produce electricity after dark unlike solar power). Wind also has its disadvantages. As Commissioner Casey pointed out in his last article, wind is a “non-firm” resource. Unfortunately, we can’t control the wind, which creates another problem, transmission capacity. There is only so much space available to transmit all the power being created, and most of the time hydro power on the Columbia fills that space pretty well. To me it is like hooking up a garden hose to a fire hydrant; there is not enough hose capacity to handle that much water. You either build new transmission capability, which I learned is about $2 million per mile, or you cut back or regulate the electricity being produced, which is what Bonneville is trying to do, which the wind producers don’t like. Wind is not energy that you can truly count on 24/7 and I don’t think it was intended to be, but this is a disadvantage.

Let's be real. Other than the people building the wind generation, the land owners who lease the property, and perhaps the construction companies building the turbines, of which I would bet that many were from out of state, who benefits directly from I-937? How many of those jobs created will be there once all the building is done? It doesn’t take many people to operate a wind turbine once it is built. And as far as I know our Grays Harbor community has not benefited from any property tax revenues from wind energy that are helping pay for firefighters, police officers or schools. The only ‘benefit’ I have seen is the 'benefit' to buy power we don’t need and the ‘benefit’ to raise rates for our customers to pay for that power, many of whom can't afford it. How that computes to $70 million dollars in saving on customers’ electricity bills I don’t know.

Regardless of what I think, I-937 is the reality we have to work with. As frustrating as it is, we will buy higher priced power (we don’t need), because it is what we have to do to be compliant.  We will do our best to absorb those costs, but that will not always be easy to do, and that is not fair, and I find that very disheartening.

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