On Dec.15, if all goes as planned, Gig Harbor’s Peninsula Light Company will start generating electricity for the first time in its 85-year history.
That’s the date Harvest Wind, PenLight’s wind project, will officially begin commercial operation.
The project, a collaboration between PenLight, Lakeview Light and Power, Cowlitz PUD and Eugene, Ore., Water and Electric Board, will generate 98.9 megawatts (MW) of “green,” environmentally friendly power.
It required a $50 million investment by PenLight, funded in part by an 8.5 percent rate increase earlier this year.
“That was the first increase we’ve had in eight years,” said Jonathan White, Penlight marketing manager. “There was virtually no complaint about it from our customers.”
That’s probably because there seems to be widespread support for renewable energy among PenLight customers, White added, citing the fact that more than 400 customers have chosen to pay extra on their monthly power bills to support “green power” projects.
“The electricity from Harvest Wind won’t actually turn on the lights in Gig Harbor homes,” White said. “It will go into the Northwest power grid and be distributed throughout the region.”
He explained that “you can’t separate the ‘green’ electrons generated by renewable energy sources like wind, from those generated by non-renewable sources” like natural gas or coal.
But even though electricity generated by Harvest Wind won’t come directly to Gig Harbor, it will help PenLight meet its I-937 requirements, according to Ray Grinberg, PenLight’s power resources director.
The I-937 initiative passed by Washington voters in 2006, requires utilities with 25,000 or more customers to obtain 15 percent of its power from renewable resources by 2020.
The initiative outlined a three-step process for meeting renewable requirements, Grinberg said.
“We have to have three percent renewable in 2012, nine percent in 2016 and by 2020, 15 percent of our sales must be met by renewables,” he said. “Harvest Wind takes us to our 2016 requirements, so now we need to be planning for 2016 and beyond.”
White said that one of the possibilities the utility is considering to meet its renewable requirements in the future is a project in which “the green electrons would go directly into our own system.”
He mentioned a solar project in central Washington that generates power for a nearby community as an example.
“In a community-based system, you might find a piece of land, like a local park, and build a solar-powered system that would generate power for the whole community,” he explained.
Of all the renewable-energy options, White said, solar seems the most promising at this time.
“The problem is cost. Right now solar costs about $8 per watt. That’s about a $32,000 investment for the average local home that uses 4MW a year,” he said.
“When the cost gets down to two or three dollars per watt, that same 4MW system would cost about $12,000, which seems much more doable for people.”
Grinberg said that in order to anticipate its future needs, PenLight must be ‘”nimble enough to forecast and see the trends coming. In the future, we may just buy our renewable power from somewhere instead of building our own generating system. But it’s always better to own our own system.”
For information on Harvest Wind, go to peninlight.org/harvestwind.