Northwest Renewable News

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Obama move to cut wave power funding upsets NW advocates May 30, 2009

The Obama administration has proposed a 25 percent cut in the research and development budget for one of the most promising renewable energy sources in the Northwest – wave and tidal power.

At the same time the White House sought an 82 percent increase in solar power research funding, a 36 percent increase in wind power funding and a 14 percent increase in geothermal funding. But it looked to cut wave and tidal research funding from $40 million to $30 million.

The decision to cut funding came only weeks after the Interior Department suggested that wave power could emerge as the leading offshore energy source in the Northwest and at a time when efforts to develop tidal power in Puget Sound are attracting national and international attention.

By some estimates, wave and tidal power could eventually meet 10 percent of the nation’s electricity demand, about the same as hydropower currently delivers. Some experts have estimated that if only 0.2 percent of energy in ocean waves could be harnessed, the power produced would be enough to supply the entire world.

In addition to Puget Sound and the Northwest coast, tidal and wave generators have been installed, planned or talked about in New York’s East River, in Maine, Alaska, off Atlantic City, N.J., and Hawaii. However, they’d generate only small amounts of power.

The Europeans are leaders when it comes to tidal and wave energy, with projects considered, planned or installed in Spain, Portugal, Scotland, Ireland and Norway. There have also been discussions about projects in South Korea, the Philippines, India and Canada’s Maritime provinces.

The proposed cut, part of the president’s budget submitted to Congress, has disappointed Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

“Wave and tidal power holds great promise in helping to meet America’s long-term energy needs,” Murray said, adding that Washington state is a leader in its development. “It’s time for the Department of Energy to focus on this potential. But playing budget games won’t get the work done.”

Murray’s staff said that while $16.8 billion in the recently passed stimulus bill is reserved for renewable energy and energy efficiency, none of it is earmarked for wave and tidal power.

Energy Department spokesman Tom Welch, however, said the Obama administration is asking for 10 times more for tidal and wave power than the Bush administration did.

“The trend line is up,” Welch said. “The department is collaborating with industry, regulators and other stakeholders to develop water resources, including conventional hydro.”

Murray sees it differently. Congress appropriated $40 million for the current year, so the Obama administration proposal actually would cut funding by a fourth.

Utility officials involved in developing tidal energy sources said the administration’s approach was shortsighted.

“We need all the tools in the tool belt,” said Steve Klein, general manager of the Snohomish County Public Utility District. “It’s dangerous to anoint certain sources and ignore others.”

The Snohomish PUD could have a pilot plant using three tidal generators installed on a seabed in Puget Sound in 2011. The tidal generators, built by an Irish company, are 50 feet tall and can spin either way depending on the direction of the tides. The units will be submerged, with 80 feet of clearance from their tops to the water’s surface. They’ll be placed outside of shipping channels and ferry routes.

The pilot plant is expected to produce one megawatt of electricity, or enough to power about 700 homes. If the pilot plant proves successful, the utility would consider installing a project that powered 10,000 homes.

“A lot of people are watching us,” Klein said.

The Navy, under pressure from Congress to generate 25 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2025, will install a pilot tidal generating project in Puget Sound near Port Townsend next year.

In Washington state, law requires that the larger utilities obtain 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. The law sets up interim targets of 3 percent by 2012 and 9 percent by 2016.

Most of the attention so far has focused on developing large wind farms east of the Cascade Mountains. Because wind blows intermittently, however, the region also needs a more reliable source of alternative energy. Tidal and wave fit that need. Also, at least with tidal, the generators would be closer to population centers than the wind turbines in eastern Washington.

“The potential is significant and (tidal and wave) could accomplish a large fraction of the renewable energy portfolio for the state,” said Charles Brandt, director of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s marine sciences lab in Sequim.



State Groups Cheered By Stimulus Money For Geothermal May 28, 2009

President Obama set aside $467 million in stimulus money Wednesday for solar and geothermal energy projects.

Oregon renewable energy advocates cheered the news.

Scientists say it could help the state’s fledgling green energy research facilities.

And investors say it could encourage the construction and development of major solar and geothermal projects.

Doug Perry is the president of Davenport Power. His group wants to build a geothermal power plant south of Bend.

Doug Perry: “There’s provisions in there for geothermal, for instrumentation, and then there’s several categories for solar projects. It’s a broader renewable package, all designed to create new opportunities for a lot more renewable energy going forward – a goal we all share.”

Perry’s company already drilled two geothermal wells – but both came up empty.

Perry says investment in future technologies, such as $80 million set aside for so-called Enhanced Geothermal Systems, could help make those wells more economically viable.



Solar giant eyes Oregon

Filed under: Green Jobs,Manufacturing,Oregon,Solar — nwrenewablenews @ 12:08 pm
Tags: , ,

Oregon has made the list of possible homes for a manufacturing facility for one of the world’s largest makers of solar energy products.

China-based SunTech Power Holdings Inc. last week announced plans to open manufacturing operations in the U.S.

A SunTech executive confirmed that Oregon is not only on the list, but the state has been its most aggressive suitor after paying several visits to executives in China.

“They’ve been pursuing us long before we even made a commitment internally to even build a plant in the U.S.,” said Steve Chadima, vice president of external affairs in publicly-held SunTech’s U.S. operations. Oregon is “pretty much at the top of the list in terms of their aggressiveness.”

by Erik Siemers, Portland Business Journal


Clark County, WA wind farm on hold May 27, 2009

A potential wind farm envisioned straddling a ridgeline near Larch Mountain in east Clark County has been put on hold.

The state Department of Natural Resources, anticipating a boom in wind energy development spilling across the west side of the Cascades, wants more information before it considers leasing western state forests to wind farmers.

Jane Chavey, a DNR spokeswoman in Olympia, said the agency wants to understand how skyscraper-high wind turbines might affect northern spotted owls or coastal birds such as marbled murrelets. State and federal biologists added that fish and wildlife concerns are much more pronounced in the varied landscapes of western Washington than on the dry-land wheat farms that characterize much of Eastern Washington.

“We want to make sure we go into this with a very well-thought-out approach,” Chavey said.

The delay follows a report last month of a golden eagle’s collision with a wind tower southeast of Goldendale in the Columbia River Gorge, believed to be the first known casualty of an eagle killed by a wind turbine in Washington.

EnXco Inc., doing business as Evergreen Wind Power Partners, expressed interest last year in leasing 5,400 acres of DNR land in a remote area of east Clark County near Larch Mountain.

A second company, Horizon Wind Energy, subsequently expressed interest in the site.

State officials began preparing a preliminary environmental review followed by an auction similar to a timber sale.

At the time, state lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland had been encouraging wind energy companies to take a look at state timberland as a way for the state to wring extra value from those lands while boosting the development of renewable energy. The state has long been involved in leasing out state pasture land in Eastern Washington for wind towers, and the two-term Republican saw opportunities to do the same on DNR-owned forests.

Sutherland was defeated for re-election last fall by Democrat Peter Goldmark.

Chavey emphasized that the change in leadership had nothing to do with the DNR’s taking a step back to consider leasing westside forests for wind turbines.

“We’re becoming more aware of the subtleties we’ll need to deal with on the west side,” she said.

In arid Eastern Washington, erecting wind turbines amid open pastures and wheat fields is a relatively straightforward proposition.

Now imagine trying to haul 400-foot-tall wind turbines through thick evergreen forests crisscrossed by fish-bearing streams. Constructing access roads would be an expensive and, potentially, an environmentally destructive proposition.

“These aren’t like logging roads to get those blades in there,” said Jim Michaels, a biologist consulting with the DNR for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Olympia. “They’re greater than 40 feet in width, almost like a superhighway.”

Once in place, the turbines run the risk of sharing space with a diversity of wildlife that mirrors the varied westside terrain — creatures living on inland bays, coastal beaches, lakes, rivers, streams and myriad kinds of forests. Wind turbines spin at about 180 mph, and the associated concrete pads, roads and transmission lines also present issues for terrestrial creatures.

State authorities are trying to put together a map showing areas that would be better for wind turbines than others.

Federal officials credited the DNR with getting ahead of the curve.

“Normally, we don’t hear about these things until an applicant has sunk quite a bit of money into it,” Michaels said. “It doesn’t take long to wrap up a couple of million dollars in a site.”

Agency spokesman Doug Zimmer added: “A lot of times, by talking to us early, we can find ways to say, ‘If you move two miles down this ridge, life will be better for everybody.'”

Erik Robinson, The Columbian


Hearings set for Ellensburg, WA wind farm

Hearings in Ellensburg on the proposed Desert Claim Wind Power Project are set for July 13-14 at the Hal Holmes Community Center, according to a state energy council.

Allen Fiksdal, manager of the state Energy Facility Siting Evaluation Council, said the formal adjudicative hearings will be during the day to examine the 95-turbine wind farm planned by enXco Inc. The facility is planned to be spread on 5,200 acres of private and state-owned land eight miles northwest of Ellensburg, north of Smithson Road.

The hearings during the day will involve expert testimony and cross examination by representatives of the applicant — Desert Claim Wind Power LLC representing enXco Inc. — and the  intervenors: the Economic Development Group of Kittitas County, Kittitas County government and the state Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development.

Also having intervenor status is the Counsel for the Environment, an attorney from the state Attorney General’s Office. The counsel is charged with representing the state’s environmental concerns.

During the early evening of July 13, a public hearing is scheduled by EFSEC members to take comments on the project from the general public. Fiksdal said anyone can come forward to comment during the evening session, whereas only the applicant, intervenors and EFSEC members are involved in the daytime hearings.

The daytime hearings will be open to the public, although no commenting will be accepted from the general public.

Fiksdal said public comments on the project continue to be accepted in writing through the EFSEC office at: P.O. Box 43172, Olympia, WA 98504-3172 or e-mailed to:

Exact times for the above hearings will be announced later.

Another hearing for the general public, as requested by enXco representatives, is set for the week of July 20 in the Seattle area, with the time and location to  be announced.

May 4 was the deadline for comments on a draft, supplement environmental impact study on the revised version of the Desert Claim project, which has been downsized and reconfigured from 120 turbines to 95 turbines.

Fiksdal said a final environmental study on the project will be released after the adjudicative hearings. This allows for review of any impact issues raised in the hearings that have not been addressed in the study.

To find all Desert Claim wind farm documents online, including the latest environmental study, go to

Mike Johnson,


First golden eagle killed by a wind turbine in southwest Washington May 19, 2009

Filed under: Washington,Wind — nwrenewablenews @ 10:42 am
Tags: , , , ,

A state biologist says a golden eagle was killed by a wind turbine blade at a southwest Washington wind farm.

The death last month is the first known eagle fatality caused by a Washington wind project.

The state’s lead wildlife biologist, Travis Nelson, says the 10-pound bird had a broken wing and two broken legs after the April 27 accident at Goodnoe Hills Wind Project southeast of Goldendale.

Golden eagles are not listed as threatened or endangered, but federal law prohibits intentionally harming raptors.

Associated Press –


Klamath farmers oppose planned dam removals May 14, 2009

For several weeks now, farmer Tom Mallams has been carting around the Oregon Capitol a 1-foot-thick bundle of petitions signed by 1,850 Klamath area residents opposed to a plan to remove four Klamath River dams.

The bundle, he said, is heavy and cumbersome. But it is the best way he knows to show lawmakers the considerable opposition to the dam-removal plan.

The plan, called the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, was hammered out over a four-year period by a diverse group of stakeholders, including farmers, ranchers, tribes, conservation groups, fishermen, federal agencies and PacifiCorp, which owns the dams and uses them to generate electricity.

Individual stakeholders, according to the group, all compromised in coming to terms on what they say is the best solution to a controversy that spans decades.

The controversy boiled over in 2001 when the federal government ordered water masters to shut off the flow of Klamath River water to irrigation canals. The shut-off cost Klamath Basin farmers millions of dollars in lost crops.

In addition to removing the four dams, the restoration plan calls for farmers in the Klamath Basin irrigation project to leave in-stream up to 100,000 acre feet of water in dry years – or nearly one-third of their water allocation claims – in exchange for water-delivery assurances.

Farmers outside the project are being asked to leave up to 30,000 acre feet of water in-stream for fish.

The loss of irrigation supplies is painful, said Greg Addington, head of the Klamath Water Users Association. But, Addington said, to be assured of some water is better than risking another complete shut-off.

Under the plan, PacifiCorp ratepayers would pay $200 million toward the cost of removing the dams. California lawmakers are preparing a $250 million bond measure to put before voters to provide backup if the costs exceed $200 million.

Oregon ratepayers, which comprise about 90 percent of PacifiCorp’s approximately 600,000 customers, would pony up $180 million of the $200 million ratepayer fund.

The plan calls for PacifiCorp to start removing the dams in 2020. The projected completion date is 2025.

The stakeholders, one and all, call the plan a major achievement.

But Mallams and others disagree.

In hearings before legislative committees on a bill that would set the plan in motion by capping Oregon ratepayers’ responsibility at $180 million, they argue the potential loss of irrigation water could devastate their ability to raise crops.

And, they say, removing the dams could cost PacifiCorp ratepayers – and possibly Oregon taxpayers – billions of dollars in unforeseen costs.

The opponents, who claim they were shut out of the stakeholder negotiations – a contention other stakeholders deny – say the $450 million top figure of dam-removal costs falls woefully short. As evidence, they point to two studies – one commissioned by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission showing costs could reach $4.5 billion and another showing costs peaking in the $840 million range.

Who, they wonder, will get stuck paying those added costs?

Supporters counter that so-called “off-ramps” are built into the plan. If additional studies show costs will exceed the $450 million top figure, they say federal agencies and others will rethink the plan. Further muting overrun concerns, they say, the Oregon Public Utilities Commission must sign off on rate increases, providing another off-ramp.

The restoration plan’s genesis can be traced to two events: the water shutoff in 2001, which showed Klamath Basin farmers what can happen if they do nothing to protect endangered salmon runs, and the pending expiration of PacifiCorp’s federal license to operate the dams. As part of relicensing provisions, PacifiCorp has been ordered to install fish ladders and conduct other extensive and expensive improvements to the structures, which are 50 years or more old.

A FERC study estimates the expense of installing fish ladders at $350 million.

Also on the table is a state law requiring utilities to generate 25 percent of the state’s power from renewable resources by 2025. Removing the dams and replacing the lost power with renewable energy resources will help PacifiCorp meet those requirements, company officials said.

Also on the plus side, dam removal is expected to enhance fish runs, opening traditional spawning grounds now off-limits to endangered salmon – a contention Mallams and others dispute.

“This offers us the surest and quickest ways of restoring fish runs,” said Jeff Mitchell, tribal council member for the Klamath Tribes. “We’ve gone without salmon now for decades.”

The biggest unknown in the dam-removal cost is the toxicity of sediment that has built up behind the four dams. Particularly worrisome is the amount of asbestos, which was used extensively in dam construction.

Preliminary studies show the sediment contains only minor levels of toxicity. But those studies, even proponents admit, are cursory. Comprehensive studies are planned before steps are taken to remove the dams.

If the sediment is found to be highly toxic, project backers say the secretary of the federal Department of the Interior could put a halt to the plan in 2012, when the department is projected to rule on whether to go forward.

At that point, money collected from ratepayers in a surcharge pot called for in Senate Bill 76 would either be reimbursed or put toward a beneficial use. For example, it could go toward paying for fish ladders and other structural improvements necessary to relicense the dams.

But opponents say the opt-outs don’t provide sufficient protection against officials pushing the plan forward even if dam removal costs skyrocket.

Also, they say, at some point in the dam decommissioning process it will be too late to turn back – regardless of the level of toxicity found in the sediment.

Opponents also question whether PacifiCorp can replace the lost power. If nothing else, they argue, lawmakers should wait for further studies before passing any bill that sets the plan in motion.

“It is irresponsible for us to render a decision on SB76 at this time,” Rep. Bill Garrard, R-Klamath Falls, said in testimony before a House committee last week.

Garrard also told committee members the majority of people in his district oppose dam removal.

“I ask you to please wait until we know if dam removal is the right thing to do,” he said.

Plan proponents, meanwhile, say it is critical to move forward now with Senate Bill 76. By amortizing the cost to ratepayers over 10 years, they say, it will add only between $1.50 and $1.80 a month to the average electric customer’s bill.

Waiting to implement the surcharge, they say, puts ratepayers at risk for a dramatic rate increase at some future date.

“This bill is needed now, not only to demonstrate Oregon’s commitment to the (restoration) agreement, but to soften the impact on ratepayers.” said Mike Carrier, natural resources policy advisor for Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

But adopting SB76, opponents argue, sets in motion a slippery slope they fear could be far more costly for ratepayers in the long run.

Mitch Lies, Capital Press