Engineers' Plans for Excess Wind Energy

By Tom Bacon

Wind energy which is becoming more abundant in the northwest has its own built-in headaches for power planners. If it can't be funneled into the power distribution system instantly, the question is, what to do with it?

Bonneville Power Administration and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory engineers think they may finally have come up with a solution - create a sort of natural storage battery deep underground in porous basalt rock formations in eastern Washington.

The idea is to take excess power generated by wind farms sprouting all over the region, run a big air compressor with it and push pressurized air into the geologic structures underground. Later, when power demand increases, the stored air would be released back up to the surface, heated, and sent shooting through turbines to generate electricity.

Teams of engineers from the two federal agencies have identified two likely basalt formations - one just north of Boardman Oregon on the Washington side of the river, and another in Yakima Canyon.

The two natural storage battery-like rock formations could store energy for extended periods, according to engineers, and could be significant help, especially during spring months when there's often more wind and water power produced than the region can absorb.

The plan is modeled after two existing compressed air energy storage plants - one in Alabama, and one in Germany. Both those sites, however, use old salt caverns to store the compressed air.

About 13 percent of the northwest power supply now comes from wind, and the share will increase as more wind farms go into operation.
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