Northwest Renewable News

Your Daily Source for Renewable Energy News in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana & Northern California

Geothermal Energy is Booming in Western States December 31, 2008

Filed under: Geothermal,Renewable Energy Projects — nwrenewablenews @ 4:14 pm

30aacf95-096f-4c52-b58e-eca21f036e84hmediumWithin six months of discovering a massive geothermal field, a small Utah company had erected and fired up a power plant — just one example of the speed with which companies are capitalizing on state mandates for alternative energy.

Anticipation of new energy policies has sparked a rush on land leases as companies like Raser Technologies Inc., based in Provo, lock up property that hold geothermal fields and potentially huge profits.

Raser’s find, about 155 miles southwest of Provo, could eventually power 200,000 homes.

The company said it will begin routing electricity to Anaheim, Calif., within weeks.

Earlier this month, California adopted the nation’s most sweeping plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

“We made a pleasant discovery, let’s put it that way,” said Brent Cook, the company’s chief executive.

Geothermal technology creates energy using heat that is stored in the earth. But geothermal still generates less than 1 percent of the world’s energy, according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency.

Steady jump in leases
The number of government land leases and drilling permits have risen quickly, said Kermit Witherbee, who heads up the leasing program for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, with more than two dozen companies now trying to make a score like Raser.

Two years ago, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management approved 18 geothermal drilling permits. That number more than doubled in 2007 and has nearly quadrupled this year.

The government leased a staggering 244,000 acres for geothermal development in the past 18 months. Another 146,339 acres went up for bid earlilier this month in Utah, Oregon and Idaho.

All of it was claimed.

Raser’s find “has the potential to become one of the more important geothermal energy developments of the last quarter century,” said Greg Nash, a professor of geothermal exploration at the University of Utah.

The company quickly redrew its business plan, bumping up its planned development of 10 megawatts of power to 230 megawatts. That is in line with the field’s power potential according to calculations by GeothermEX Inc., a consulting firm.

By comparison, the largest group of geothermal plants in the world are The Geysers, about 60 miles northeast of San Francisco. The Geysers geothermal basin produces about 900 megawatts of energy, enough to power the city, said Ann Robertson-Tait, a senior geologist and vice president of business development for GeothermEX.

“The outlook for geothermal is great,” said Brian Yerger, an energy analyst for New York-based Jesup & Lamont.

Financing terms
Geothermal companies are relatively small players in the energy market and have had to scramble to lock up financing, particularly during a recession.

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Solar antireflective coating has overcome two major hurdles

Filed under: Emerging Technology,Solar — nwrenewablenews @ 4:08 pm
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A new antireflective coating has overcome two major hurdles facing solar energy – boosting the amount of sunlight captured by solar panels and allowing those panels to absorb the entire solar spectrum from nearly any angle. The discovery by researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute brings the industry closer to realizing high-efficiency, costeffective solar power.

“To get maximum efficiency when converting solar power into electricity, you want a solar panel that can absorb nearly every single photon of light, regardless of the sun’s position in the sky,” says Shawn-Yu Lin, the Wellfleet Constellation Chair professor of physics at Rensselaer. “Our new antireflective coating makes this possible.”

An untreated silicon solar cell absorbs only 67.4% of the sunlight that hits the panel – meaning that nearly one-third of that sunlight is reflected away and cannot be harvested. From an efficiency and economic perspective, this unharvested light is wasted potential and a major barrier hampering the proliferation and widespread adoption of solar power.

After a silicon surface was treated with the new nanoengineered antireflective coating, the material absorbed 96.2% of sunlight – with only 3 .79% of the sunlight reflected and unharvested. This huge gain in absorption was consistent across the entire spectrum of sunlight, from ultraviolet to visible to infrared.

“At the beginning of the project, we asked ‘would it be possible to create a single antireflective structure that can work from all angles?’ Then we attacked the problem from a fundamental perspective, tested and finetuned our theory, and created a working device,” Lin says.

Typical antireflective coatings are engineered to transmit light of one particular wavelength. The new coating stacks seven of these layers in such a way that each layer enhances the antireflective properties of the layer below it. These additional layers also help to bend the flow of sunlight to an angle that augments the coating’s antireflective properties, so each layer not only transmits sunlight, it also helps to capture any light that may have otherwise been reflected by the layers below it.

The seven layers, each with a height of 50 nm to 100 nm, are made up of silicon dioxide and titanium dioxide nanorods positioned at an oblique angle – each layer looks and functions similar to a dense forest where sunlight is “captured” between the trees. The nanorods are attached to a silicon substrate via physical vapor disposition. Lin says the new coating can be affixed to nearly any photovoltaic materials for use in solar cells, including III-V multi-junction and cadmium telluride.

This layered design successfully tackles the challenge of angles. Most surfaces and coatings are designed to absorb light (i.e., be antireflective) and transmit light (i.e., allow the light to pass through it) from a specific range of angles. Eyeglass lenses, for example, absorb and transmit quite a bit of light from a light source directly in front of them, but those same lenses absorb and transmit considerably less light if the light source is off to the side or in the wearer’s periphery.

The same is true of conventional solar panels, which is why some industrial solar arrays are mechanized to slowly move throughout the day so their panels are perfectly aligned with the sun’s position in the sky. Without this automated movement, the panels would not be optimally positioned and would therefore absorb less sunlight. The tradeoff for this increased efficiency, however, is the energy needed to power the automation system, the cost of maintaining the system, and the possibility of misalignment errors.

Lin’s discovery couìd antiquate these automated solar arrays, as the antireflective coating absorbs sunlight evenly and equally from all angles. This means that a stationary solar panel treated with the coating could absorb more than 95% of sunlight regardless of the position of the sun.


Pipelines for Dairy Waste Digesters the next logical step

Dairies produce gas, and utility companies need renewable gas sources for energy. Building a system to deliver the gas while giving dairies credit for reducing emissions seemed like a good fit.

Using methane gas produced in a dairy digester to provide energy isn’t a new concept, but David Albers, a Bakersfield, Calif.-based environmental attorney and dairy owner, provided a new twist. He would design and build projects that take biogas from several dairies, convert it to a form useable by a utility and feed it into their gas pipeline.

Dairy owners receive part of the proceeds from the sale of gas. Sale of the resulting emissions credits, since the project removes greenhouse gases from the environment, also generates income for owners.

Albers’ first project, at his Vintage Dairy in Fresno County, began providing gas to Pacific Gas & Electric Company in October. It is the first in California to deliver pipeline-quality, renewable natural gas to a utility.

His second project, in Kern County, is scheduled to go online by November 2009. With four dairies under contract for that project, he could deliver 500,000 cubic feet of gas per day. Albers’ company, BioEnergy Solutions, has a long-term contract with PG&E to deliver up to 3 billion cubic feet of natural gas a year. The utility uses the gas to deliver electricity to customers in central and northern California.

“David is the only one in California to do this successfully,” said Ken Brennan of PG&E. “His company is the front runner in the state.”

Brennan said that PG&E is impressed with the quality of the gas that comes from the dairy pipeline.

“The gas molecules are the same as every other natural gas molecule,” Brennan said.

Albers wanted to bypass the electricity production from methane that so many dairies have tried because the generators used to convert gas to electricity have run into problems with the air districts due to their production of nitrous oxides.

Albers saw the gas pipeline route as a better choice.

In his law practice, Albers assists dairy producers with the permit process, which includes responding to public comments about the proposed dairies.

“As part of the process we do an environmental analysis of the project, and in public comments someone would always ask ‘why don’t you build a digester?’

In response, Albers would do an economic analysis for a digester and find it wasn’t economically feasible.

“There was no market to justify the cost,” he said.

Then came a mandate for utilities to use renewable sources for energy.

“I started to talk with PG&E and eight months later I had a contract,” he said.

Albers said he just had to figure out how to build the infrastructure to gather the gas from dairies, convert it to a useable form and send it to the utility.

“It was really just a new application of existing technology. We were putting different Tinkertoys together,” he said.

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New NW building methods require no air conditioning

Filed under: Energy Efficiency — nwrenewablenews @ 1:55 pm
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Architects in Portland, Seattle and other U.S. cities are increasingly opting to leave out air conditioners when designing new buildings.

According to a recent report by Green Tech Media, about 39 percent of the energy generated in the U.S. goes to power buildings and the appliances they contain. Air conditioning accounts for about 40 percent of that figure, with heating and cooling combining for 16 percent of the nation’s total energy use.

Without air conditioners, buildings are naturally cooled with technology such as computer-operated windows that open at night to allow cool air in and then trap it inside during the daylight hours.
“The way we heat and cool buildings in this country is absolutely ridiculous,” Jim Lee, CEO of Cimetrics, an energy efficiency company, told the website. For her part, a Seattle architect, Amanda Sturgeon, was quoted as saying that “there are only five days a year you need cooling in Seattle.”

By skipping the air conditioners, the designers are also making it easier for their new buildings to gain LEED certification, which can positively impact property values while saving money and energy.

Consumers can also do much to make their existing homes much more energy efficient, often for little money or effort. Some options include gas furnaces, small renewable energy systems such as solar panels, and highly efficiency heating technology.


FERC and Fort Bragg, CA residents clash over likely hydrokinetic power development December 30, 2008

On January 13, 2009, a “top official from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) will appear to explain the agency’s strategy on developing what it calls “hydrokinetic” power as an alterative energy source.

Ann F. Miles, FERC’s director of the Division of Hydropower Licensing, will meet with county and city officials before attending the public meeting in Fort Bragg.

“The FISH Committee is looking forward to FERC’s visit, and welcomes the opportunity to learn about the different FERC licensing processes for wave energy, and how fishermen and other affected people can participate and have their voices heard,” said attorney Elizabeth Mitchell, who represents the Fisherman Involved for Safe Hydrokinetics.

Ocean waters off the Mendocino Coast, from Little River to Cleone, are now claimed under exclusive study permits by two different wave energy developers. GreenWave LLC claims 17 square miles of waters from Little River to Point Cabrillo, while PG&E claims 68 square miles from Point Cabrillo to Cleone.

Preliminary permits granted by FERC give not only exclusive study rights to the claimants, but also licensing priority to develop wave energy upon successful completion of the three-year studies.

Fort Bragg has become ground-zero for wave energy regulation. The federal Minerals Management Service, which is involved in an open feud with FERC over wave energy regulation, has sought to make Fort Bragg its test case.

FERC drew local ire by denying local efforts to intervene in the study process. At one point, protesters carried signs targeting the obscure federal agency with messages such as “Don’t FERC with us.”

One FERC insider said commissioners had complained that more fuss had been made in tiny Fort Bragg than the entire rest of the nation.

FERC later relented and on appeal granted intervener status to Mendocino County, for the PG&E project. The period to intervene and comment on GreenWave’s permit closes Friday, Feb. 6. As yet, nobody has filed anything with FERC, according to its Website.

“The commission’s existing procedures are well-established and well-suited to address this expansion of conventional hydropower with new technologies,” Miles told Congress last year, “and we are prepared to learn from experience in this rapidly evolving area and to make whatever regulatory adjustments are appropriate in order to help realize the potential of this renewable energy resource.”

FERC expanded its domain into all tidal, wave, river flow and ocean current study and licensing with its novel concept of a unified “hydrokinetic” regulation.

From the Yukon River in Alaska to the ocean currents off the Florida Keys, FERC has grown its regulatory territory dramatically since the start of the Bush administration. The agency is now explaining how dam regulation and wave energy innovation can go together. FERC recently granted the first hydrokinetic plant permit for production of energy in the Mississippi River in the state of Minnesota.

The independent agency has moved quickly with Neo-Con era disdain for regulation, eschewing calls from fellow federal and state agencies for a conventional rulemaking process. Instead FERC has adjusted its process as it goes along.

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Montana has the wind, now it needs the transmission lines


Gov. Brian Schweitzer envisions a day when New Yorkers will be driving cars powered by the wind that howls across the Montana prairie. The Democrat recently called on the federal government to spend $15 billion to build a next-generation transmission grid to link such far-flung regions.

“You start delivering wind to cars and the [oil-nation] dictators, they get sad fast,” says Mr. Schweitzer in his Helena office-cum-classroom, where he keeps vials of biofuel feed stock and model windmills to show visitors. He has a lump of coal, too – a reminder that Montana not only has lots of wind to harness, but tons of coal to shovel.

The interior West’s abundance of both green-energy resources and traditional fossil fuels make some watchdogs nervous about a rush to build what has been called an Interstate highway system for electrons. The idea of expanding transmission lines is commonly pitched by politicians as a way to put people to work while removing a crucial obstacle to renewable power.

But it’s not going to be just wind and sun on those wires. “[S]ome proponents of expanding coal-fired electricity production are using windfarms as a rationalization for greatly expanding transmission lines through the region.

They talk a lot about wind power, but their real interest is vastly expanded use of coal in generating electricity,” says Larry Swanson, a regional economist at the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West at the University of Montana in Missoula.

Schweitzer does not deny that federally funded transmission lines would also help his state’s coal industry. He says he is a strong advocate not just for renewables but for so-called clean coal technologies.

“We’re going to hook some coal into it,” he says. “Fifty percent of the electricity in America comes from coal. I’m all for change, but unless you are willing to live naked in a tree and eat nuts for the next 30 years, coal’s going to be part of the portfolio.”

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Idaho Power wants to retire Renewable Energy Certificates

Filed under: Idaho,Renewable/Green Energy — nwrenewablenews @ 2:06 pm
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The Idaho Public Utilities Commission is taking comments through Jan. 8 on an Idaho Power Co. proposal that would allow the company to retire its renewable energy certificates (RECs) rather than sell them.

Idaho Power’s Elkhorn wind project in Oregon and its Raft River geothermal project in south central Idaho have generated more than 320,000 MWh of RECs in 2007 and 2008. Idaho Power wants to hold onto those green tags, so it can represent to its customers that it is meeting customer expectations for increased use of renewable energy.

Standards established by Green-e, an independent certification and verification program for renewable energy, say that green tags sold by utilities from a renewable project cannot be counted twice – by the utility doing the selling and the purchaser. Thus, if Idaho Power sells its RECs, it can no longer represent to customers that the customers are receiving the benefits of those renewable energy projects that carry the RECs.

According to Idaho Power, the Green-e standards prohibit the utility from using visuals of its wind or geothermal projects in charts, graphs or line art as part of the green resources delivered to customers if the RECs that accompany those projects are sold.

Idaho Power acknowledges that Idaho, unlike many other states, does not require its regulated utilities to generate a certain amount of its power from renewable sources. However, retaining the RECs would allow Idaho Power to satisfy any future state or federal laws imposing renewable portfolio standards, the company says.

The commission plans to handle this request in a modified procedure that uses written comments rather than conducting a hearing, unless customer comments can demonstrate a need for a public hearing. Comments are accepted via e-mail by going to and clicking on “Comments & Questions.” Fill in the case number (IPC-E-08-24) and enter your comments. Comments can also be mailed to P.O. Box 83720, Boise, ID 83720-0074 or faxed to (208) 334-3762.