NW Renewables: Infrastructure needed

 

By Sharon Fisher, NewWest.Net Guest Writer, 7-14-09

The Northwest—Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana—is arguably the riches region of the United States for renewable energy resources such as geothermal, hydro, wind, and solar, said Paul Manson, president of Seabreeze Power Corp., speaking at the Pacific Northwest Economic Region conference today (with a windmill pin on his lapel).

There are currently 3000 megawatts of renewable energy generation in the Northwest, powering 700,000 homes and reducing carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to 950,000 cars, said Suzanne Leta Liou, Senior Policy Advocate for the Renewable Northwest Project, a nonprofit based in Portland, Ore. Most of Montana has excellent wind potential, Leta Liou said, as does the Oregon-Washington border on the eastern side (to which anyone who’s driven through Pendleton could attest).

Solar has its best potential in extreme southwest Idaho and extreme southeast Oregon, while the geothermal potential is high in Idaho, southern Oregon, and some areas of Montana, Leta Liou said.

 

One criticism of renewable energy is that it is not constant—the sun doesn’t shine at night or when it’s cloudy, it’s not always windy, and rivers don’t always run—while energy demand is more or less constant and energy can’t currently be stored in any great amount. Combined, renewable energy methods could work better. For example, wind reaches its peak in the winter, and hydro reaches its peak in the spring, said Denise Hill, of the Northwest Independent Power Producer Council. (Presumably, solar reaches its peak in the summer.) And geothermal works constantly.

Projects underway include 9800 MW in wind, 407 MW in geothermal (175 in Oregon and 232 in Idaho), 15 MW in solar in Oregon by year end—compared to 1 MW by a year ago, and 75 MW proposed in Washington, Leta Liou said.

So far, the economic benefits include: $5 billion in capital investment, $4.4 million to $8.2 million in royalty payments to ranchers and farmers, $22 million to $42 million in local property taxes, more than 4,000 construction jobs, and more than 300 permanent jobs in operation and management, Leta Liou said. Leta Liou expects another 2,000 jobs to be created in geothermal -- 200-350 in solar in Oregon alone -- and 22,000 in solar manufacturing, Leta Liou said. In just two years, seven solar manufacturers set up shop in Oregon, creating 2,000 jobs and generating $1.5 billion in capital investment. Other projects have been started in Washington and Idaho (though the Idaho project has stalled).

But the bottleneck now is transmission. “I cannot say enough that new transmission is needed,” said Hill. It’s not even because of renewable energy, but because transmission capacity has lagged generation for more than 20 years.

Transmission has its own problems, particularly with siting On the other hand, it would be possible to export 600 MW of Montana wind energy by constructing a 500kv substation to western load centers near Ringling, Mont. However, because the land has a number of owners and the area crosses state borders, there is not currently the political will to build it, Hill said.

What’s needed to attract a renewable energy project to a region? Leta Liou laid out six factors:
* Resource
* Land
* Permits
* Transmission
* Energy buyer (a power purchase agreement)
* Financing

To increase the amount of renewable energy development, renewable portfolio standards are needed to help develop a stable, predictable market for the energy, Leta Liou said. For example, Washington requires 15 percent by 2020 (meaning it would need an additional 1011 MW); Oregon requires 5 percent by 2011, increasing by 5 percent per five-year period until it reaches 25 percent by 2025 (meaning it would need an additional 884 MW by 2020 and 1143 MW by 2025); and Montana requires 5 percent by 2008, increasing by 5 percent per five-year period until it reaches 15 percent by 2015 (meaning it would need an additional 61 MW by 2015).

In addition, greenhouse gas emission reduction requirements such as Waxman-Markey on the federal side, and state requirements in Oregon and Washington, could also help increase renewable energy development. On the carrot side, the federal government, as well as Washington and Oregon, offer various financial incentives for renewable energy development, Leta Liou said.

Further out—both geographically and in time—are renewable energy projects based on harvesting the energy from waves, with the potential of 40,000 MW from offshore, 10,000 MW from Vancouver Island, and 10,000 from the Charlotte Island area of British Columbia, said Andrew Walls, of the Ocean Energy Resources Group. However, that isn’t expected to generate significant energy until 2020. Alaska, Washington, and Oregon are also looking at generating energy from waves, he said.

 

This piece originally appeared at NewWest.Net, a magazine for and about the Rocky Mountain West that specializes in covering growth, politics, the outdoors and the culture of the region.

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