Wind energy advocates say Bonneville could have avoided shutting down wind generators by offering free hydropower to fossil fuel power plants outside its immediate area or even paying them to take the surplus power, as often happens elsewhere in the country in an energy marketing practice known as "negative pricing."
But Bonneville managers, who supply public utilities and a few large-scale industrial customers in the Pacific Northwest with traditionally low-cost power, said that shipping electricity outside its "balancing" area would raise its own ratepayers' costs.
For the future, Mainzer said, Bonneville is working to expand transmission capacity to accommodate more electricity, looking at options to store more water behind dams in Canada and investing in new "smart grid" technology that could eventually allow more power to be stored when it's abundant.
As for the salmon, scientists are debating how serious the gas bubble problem is. Ed Bowles, chief of fisheries for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the issue was a "red herring" because young fish benefit from getting across the dams as quickly as possible, even if temporarily traumatized.
"Every time Mother Nature has provided us with a bounty of water and Bonneville and the Corps of Engineers get into a situation of over-generation or uncontrolled spill," he said, "the fish have responded remarkably well."