Hydropower   Nuclear   Solar   Wind  

How Our Power Works

Wind energy (or wind power) refers to the process of creating electricity from the natural air flow.  When the wind blows past a wind turbine, its blades capture the wind’s kinetic energy and rotate, turning it into mechanical energy. This rotation turns an internal shaft connected to a gearbox, which increases the speed of rotation by a factor of 100. That spins a generator that produces electricity.

A typical modern turbine will start to generate electricity when wind speeds reach six to nine miles per hour (mph), known as the cut-in speed. Turbines will shut down if the wind is blowing too hard, roughly 55 mph, to prevent equipment damage.

Wind turbine map showing how electricity is supplied

Transmission lines, called distribution lines, collect electricity generated at the wind project and transport it to larger "network" transmission lines, where the electricity can travel across long distances to the locations where it is needed. Finally, smaller distribution lines deliver electricity directly to your town, home or business.

Wind turbine map and electric lines

 When balancing an electric grid there’s a lot more to consider than what meets the eye. Electric utilities need to balance reliability, affordability and the environment.  Wind power is a renewable source of energy and considered clean.  In the Northwest over 50% of our regions’ power is being provided by renewables.  Hydro accounts for 46% annually, with wind providing 9% and solar contributing around 1% to the mix.  However, one of the primary challenges of wind power is that it is intermittent, meaning you can’t rely upon it 24/7.  Wind power is only reliable when the wind is blowing.  For this reason, other sources, such as hydro-electric power and nuclear are needed to “back up” the wind, making it a more costly resource.  Wind power also comes along with its own environmental challenges including noise, impacts to wildlife and landscape and disposal.

Wind Power & Clean Energy Mandates

The Energy Independence Act

Benton PUD invested in wind energy projects - Energy Northwest's Nine Canyon Wind Project and Klickitat PUD's White Creek Wind Project - to meet the mandates imposed by the Energy Independence Act (Initiative 937).  The EIA mandated that 3% in 2012; 9% in 2016 and 15% in 2020 come from “qualified” renewable sources (not counting hydro power).

Clean Energy Transformation Act

Benton PUD is now considering how to meet new clean energy standards under the Clean Energy Transformation Act (known as CETA).  Under CETA, electric utilities resource portfolios are required to be free of coal (by 2025), greenhouse gas neutral (by 2030) and carbon free (by 2045).  While wind and solar power are popular choices for meeting 100% clean electricity goals, the intermittency and variability of these resources makes them unsuitable for maintaining the precise moment-to-moment balance between electricity production and consumption required for reliable power grid operations.

Wind Power & Clean Energy Policy Perspectives

Benton PUD commissioners are concerned about the real possibility of power grid blackouts precipitated by rapid retirement of coal-fired power plants. While wind can be a substitute for some of the annual energy produced by coal, it cannot provide the dependable capacity required for balancing electricity supply and demand on an around the clock basis, and under a wide variety of weather conditions. 

Benton PUD commissioners released the Wind Power & Clean Energy Policy Perspectives Report  to raise attention to environmental and economic costs of further development of wind power in the Pacific Northwest.  We encourage you to read the report to gain a better understanding of our commission’s perspective on the future of wind power in the Pacific Northwest.

Wind Power and Clean Energy Policy Perspectives Report

Did you know?

  • In 2019, wind energy provided 7.30% of all in-state electricity production in Washington State.  Washington State ranks 11th for installed wind capacity which is a little over 3,100 megawatts. [source: American Wind Energy Association]
  • In 2019, over 1,900 metric tons of emissions were associated with transportation, industry, residential and commercial industry.  While only 3 metric tons were associated with electricity. [source:  Energy Independence Administration]
  • In 2019, the electric power sector produced 32% of total U.S. energy-rated CO2 emissions. [source:  Energy Independence Administration]
  • In 2019, Benton PUD’s Fuel Mix or power supply portfolio is over 92% clean.  Wind accounted for 5.2% of the portfolio and is bought primarily to comply with state EIA requirements.