Northwest Renewable News

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

Methane digester ready to go at Threemile Canyon Farms December 18, 2009

Filed under: Farm/Ranch,Methane Digesters,Oregon,Renewable Energy Projects — nwrenewablenews @ 3:42 pm

Marty Myers, general manager at Threemile Canyon Farms, has high hopes for the operation’s new fuel plant.

Workers just completed building a $1 million methane digester near the milking barns.

Myers and Tom Chavez, the farm’s waste manager, hope to begin producing methane gas from the digester in early January.

“This is a pilot project that should handle the manure from 1,000 to 1,500 cows,” Myers said.

Threemile Canyon Farms has a flush dairy. That means employees use water to clean the stalls, washing animal waste into a drainage system that pumps it over revolving screens that remove large solids for composting.

The wastewater then flows into clarifiers, similar to those used in municipal wastewater systems. They allow solids to settle to the bottom, from which the waste again is pumped over the screens.

Myers said some waste from the bottom of the clarifiers eventually will go to the digester, where bacteria will decompose it, producing methane.

The rest will go through settling cells and finally into the lagoon.

“The lagoon water is then clean enough to be pumped through the irrigation system through the pivots as fertilizer,” he said.

The digester isn’t much to look at. Most of it is underground, comprising a 29-foot deep inverted pyramid that is 160 feet square at ground level.

Troy Green, a Kennewick engineer who helped design the digester, said it’s filled with 31,000 neatly stacked tires.

Myers said he and the engineers think this digester will process manure twice as fast as a traditional digester, which takes 20-25 days.

“I think this will reduce the time to seven to 10 days because of the tires,” Myers said. “They give a place for the bacteria to live.”

Waste that isn’t routed to the digester will go through settling cells and finally into the lagoon.

“The lagoon water is then clean enough to be pumped through the irrigation system through the pivots as fertilizer,” he said.

The gas will be collected and used to fire a boiler. It will heat water for use on the 17,000-cow dairy.

This pilot project will determine the system’s success. If it works, Myers plans to build up to a dozen digesters to handle manure from the entire dairy.

“It’s a successful project if it produces enough gas to heat our … water for the dairy,” he said.

The dairy’s propane bill runs about $120,000 per year to do that today. That’s why the methane digester project is a partnership among the farm, Northwest Natural Gas and the Bonneville Environmental Foundation.

Myers expects it will be 18 months after startup before he’ll know the digester’s effectiveness, but he’s eager to find out.

“If it’s as successful as we think it is, the next eight to 12 will be lesser cost per unit.”

Producing methane from cow manure could even become a revenue stream, Myers said. If the farm can’t burn all the methane it produces, it might build a co-generation plant or sell methane to Portland General Electric, which has a generating plant about four miles from the farm.

DEAN BRICKEY, The East Oregonian –


Feds award $12M to plot out power lines in West

Filed under: Renewable/Green Energy,Smart Grid,Wind — nwrenewablenews @ 3:29 pm
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The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded $12 million to the Western Governor’s Association to plan for new electricity transmission lines.

As the West’s population grows and electricity demand increases, companies and government agencies are poised to sink billions of dollars into power lines that would crisscross the region.

But it’s been a challenge to find the best routes and balance their construction against potential environmental harm.

The $12 million in federal funds announced Friday will be used to identify areas with potential for large-scale development of renewable resources. States will also receive money to determine which transmission routes could interfere with wildlife habitat and migration corridors.

Linda Davis with the Western Governor’s Association says the group hopes to narrow down possible routes by mid-2011.

Associated Press, KTVZ (TV) –


Wind plan gets a ‘no’ from Kittitas County commisioners, for now

Filed under: Legal/Courts,Washington,Wind — nwrenewablenews @ 3:14 pm
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Although Kittitas County commissioners on Tuesday turned down a proposal to establish land-use rules for large-scale community wind energy projects, they still like the idea and want to see more work on guidelines to make it possible in rural areas of the county.

Commissioners Alan Crankovich, Mark McClain and Paul Jewell made it clear the proposal is an opportunity for rural property owners to partner with firms like Cascade Community Wind Co. LLC for high-tech economic development.

They also recognized there is wide support for the proposal from rural residents and property owners.

Commissioners also said more safeguards are needed in the land-use rules for the proposal to make the tall turbine towers more safe and compatible with surrounding neighbors and rural land activities.

The towers, although proposed to be allowed in fewer numbers and with limitations on per-acre density, can be as large as the existing Wild Horse commercial wind farm east of Ellensburg.

After discussion, commissioners agreed to deny the proposal as it currently is written and as it was recommended by the county Planning Commission.

Yet they encouraged the applicant, a county landowner and an agent representing Cascade Community Wind Co. LLC to work with county planning staff to refine the proposal in the coming months.

After the Tuesday session, Jewell said county staff has been directed to form a working group and a work plan to cooperate with the applicant to resolve several issues including setbacks from roads, homes, property lines and other structures.

Jewell said the revised community wind proposal could be resubmitted to the county by June 30, 2010, to be considered by the end of that year in the annual amendment process.

The other option is the county can administratively agree to review a new proposal through public hearings much earlier as a change in its development and zoning regulations.

Terry Meyer, the principal in the Cascade Community Wind Co. LLC, said in letters to commissioners that proposed amendments for community wind energy systems are compatible with the county’s comprehensive land-use plan and policies.

He earlier suggested that the proposal could be approved now by commissioners as a conditional use, and the county and Cascade Wind then could work on refining the proposal in the coming weeks and months.

Neil Caulkins, a county civil deputy prosecutor, said it is unlikely there is time to go through the public review process for such a change before the end of this year, and said development code changes like this and accompanying changes in the comp plan must be submitted and reviewed at the same time.

Comp plan changes, amendments

Mike Johnson, Daily Record –


Seismic Activity a concern for planed Newberry Geothermal plant December 15, 2009

Filed under: Geothermal,Oregon,Renewable Energy Projects — nwrenewablenews @ 3:31 pm
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Small earthquakes can be triggered from geothermal efforts like the one proposed for Newberry Crater, which use water pressure to create a network of tiny cracks deep below the Earth’s surface.

“When they fracture rock, they’re automatically creating earthquakes,” said Dennise Templeton, a seismologist with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. “The whole issue is how big they are, and can they be mitigated so they’re not affecting people at the surface.”

In Basel, Switzerland, an enhanced geothermal project was shut down last week because of earthquakes that rattled homes. And at the Geysers in California, a project has been put on hold while the company addresses drilling problems and the Energy Department reviews seismic information in response to news reports.

But developers of the Newberry project, which recently received $25 million in federal stimulus funds, say the geology and the fracturing techniques proposed for the site south of Bend lessen the chances that people would feel any ground movement locally.

“We’re causing what are basically microscopic cracks in the rock to move,” said Don O’Shei, CEO of AltaRock, which is working with Davenport Energy on the Newberry geothermal project.

While seismometers measuring ground movement might pick up on that activity, he said, the vast majority of the quakes would be less than around 1.0 magnitude, and people would be “completely unaware they’re happening.”

Earthquakes produced by enhanced geothermal systems happen when crews drill a well, then inject pressurized water thousands of feet below the surface to fracture the rock.

The idea is to later circulate water through these fractures, heating it up before it’s pumped back to the surface to generate power from the heat.

AltaRock and Davenport are proposing to test the technique west of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, but still have to go through the permitting and environmental review process with the Bureau of Land Management, which will take months. Davenport previously drilled exploratory wells in the area but didn’t find the steam or hot water necessary for traditional geothermal power.

In the enhanced geothermal technique, “as you inject water down in the well to mine the heat, it opens up fractures,” said John Lund, director of the Geo-Heat Center at the Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls.

“And as these fractures pop open, they release energy, and that energy is picked up on a seismograph.”

Most of the earthquakes from enhanced geothermal projects are small, he said, with some reaching around a magnitude of 3.0 — which is about the size at which people will feel some movement.

“Some of the lodges in the (Newberry) caldera might feel some of them,” he said, adding “I think it’s not going to be anything serious.”

During the permitting process for a project like Newberry, a seismologist would probably study the area and say whether earthquakes might be felt in nearby communities, he said.

Still, because the fracturing is happening at depths shallower than earthquakes normally occur, people might be able to feel smaller earthquakes, said John Vidale, director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network.

“The closer it is to the surface, the smaller magnitude you can feel,” he said — and people might be able to feel a shallow magnitude 2.0 quake.

But with the geothermal issue, problems can stem from people’s perception of the quakes — whether or not they feel them.

“If there’s a lot of little earthquakes, even if there’s not much damage, people get really nervous,” he said. And that nervousness can be a legitimate concern for project developers, Vidale added.

Seismologists are realizing that there are areas of rock deep below the surface that are under stress and could generate earthquakes, he said. And the only way to know for sure what will happen at Newberry is to start the project.

“The only real way to know how many earthquakes will be generated is to start pumping fluids (into the rock),” Vidale said. “It’s hard to predict ahead of time.”

But O’Shei with AltaRock said that the Newberry project has key differences from the Switzerland effort.

In Basel, crews intentionally drilled into a large fault, hoping to use the pent-up energy of the fault to create fractures.

But Newberry is seismically stable, he said, and the local project’s engineers don’t want to create the whole network of faults at once — they want to generate multiple smaller systems.

“We can control it and do much smaller fracturing,” he said.

Crews will have sensitive monitoring equipment that will be able to tell them where the fractures are occurring, O’Shei said.

And if too much rock is moving, or the cracks are going in an unwanted direction, they can ramp down the volume or pressure of the water to stop the process, he said.

The Basel drilling rig was right in the middle of the city, he said, where many buildings were built hundreds of years ago.

“There’s all kinds of medieval construction there that’s very fragile,” O’Shei said.

And because Basel is on a major fault, while Newberry isn’t, the rocks at Newberry should be less likely to move, he said.

“A place that generally is seismically active is likely to be more sensitive to anything you would do there,” O’Shei said.

Kate Ramsayer, Bend Bulletin


Phasing out wind farm tax credit divides Oregon groups December 13, 2009

Filed under: Oregon,Renewable Energy Projects,Wind — nwrenewablenews @ 10:42 pm
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Proposed changes to rein in state tax incentives for renewable energy projects would do little in the short run to reduce subsidies going to the large, utility scale wind farms that are capturing the lion’s share of the incentives.

The 13 proposed large-scale wind farms that have submitted applications for Oregon’s Business Energy Tax Credit would be eligible for up to $118 million in subsidies under an alternative tax credit regime proposed earlier this month by state energy and economic development officials, according to a state report.

That’s just a 9 percent reduction from the $130 million in subsidies the 13 projects are eligible for under current rules. And it is far more generous than the 65 percent reduction that would have taken place under a bill to reform the tax credits passed by the Legislature earlier this year but vetoed by Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

Even so, a trade group for the renewables industry has warned the governor and key legislators that any attempt to apply changes retroactively and reduce incentives for projects that have already applied for the credits would invite lawsuits.

The BETC program has become increasingly controversial as the costs have ballooned and lawmakers look for ways to balance a strained state budget. Investigations by The Oregonian have found that state officials intentionally downplayed the cost of the tax credits before the Legislature voted to substantially increase them in 2007; that millions of tax dollars went to projects that went bankrupt or never produced energy savings; that many of the projects being subsidized would eventually be built with or without the subsidies; and that much of Oregon’s subsidized wind power is being sold to customers out of state.

Kulongoski vetoed the Legislature’s reform bill because he said it would undermine the growth of Oregon’s green economy at a time when the state — and rural counties in particular — are desperate for new jobs and tax revenues.

But last month he asked state energy and economic development departments to evaluate the BETC program and make recommendations for potential changes that could inform debate when the Legislature convenes in February.

The departments’ report, delivered in early December, reached an obvious mathematical conclusion: Oregon’s tax credits are becoming a smaller percentage of wind farm costs as the size of those projects grows. The report also included a 36-page list of the subsidy programs offered by Oregon and five other western states.

But the report didn’t analyze how incentive programs in different states would apply to a comparable project, or how Oregon’s subsidy system stacks up. The fundamental question of whether the subsidies are necessary was not addressed.

Mark Long, director of the Department of Energy, said a state-by-state comparison proved too complicated. The viability of a wind farm, he said, depends on a variety of factors, including local wind conditions, available transmission and state renewables mandates.

“We did some informal referencing with other states and we came up with 483 different (incentive) scenarios,” Long said. “We didn’t feel there was a good apples-to-apples comparison with other states based on how their programs operate.”

The department’s report suggested that wind energy is maturing and proposed an alternative formula to calculate the tax credits that would phase them out over five years.

It also recommended that the state adopt a biennial cap to limit renewables tax credits to between 1 and 4 percent of energy suppliers’ 2008 revenues in Oregon. That translates to a cap on renewables credits between $73 million and $292 million per biennium, the report said.

Long said the phase out, coupled with the cap, would control state subsidies for renewables projects as wind farms moved to the point where they could stand on their own.

“Our conclusions were that this level of incentive is necessary” he said. “We think this has provided that level of analysis.”

Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, who sponsored the Legislature’s bill to reduce the BETC, said the governor’s endorsement of the proposals is a good starting point for new discussions about the program, but certainly not a final product.

“I’m strongly supportive of the environmental goals of green energy,” she said, “but my main concern is to stop a runaway gravy train.”

Here’s how the various incentive regimes play out:

Under Oregon’s existing BETC program, wind farm developers can apply for a tax credit worth 50 percent of a project’s cost up to $20 million, meaning a maximum credit of $10 million ($11 million, including cost overruns). They can use the credit themselves over five years or sell it to a third party to raise upfront cash for their projects.

The bill passed by the Legislature earlier this year and vetoed by Kulongoski would have reduced the maximum credit to $3.5 million, the same level of subsidy the program offered before the BETC was increased in 2007.

Under the new proposal, wind developers would be eligible for a subsidy equal to 5 percent of their project costs up to $200 million, meaning a maximum BETC of $10 million. The percentage would decline by 1 percent a year over five years, phasing out altogether in the sixth year.

The agencies’ report to Kulongoski compared the existing incentive with the proposed incentive model for 55 projects, about a third of which have already received their tax credits.

The largest impact of the change was on small projects. On a $25 million wind farm, for instance, the tax credit would decline from $11 million under the existing system to $1.3 million. That change would make it less appealing for project developers to break up their projects into multiple applications to maximize their credits — a practice state officials are anxious to eliminate.

The proposal has a more limited impact — in the short run at least — on subsidies for large projects that have been capturing most the subsidies.

The report identified 13 large-scale wind farms, either proposed or under development, that have submitted pre-applications for the BETC. Under the proposed formula, the projects would be eligible for up to $118 million in subsidies, compared with $130 million under current rules.

The average cost of those projects was more than $300 million. Even in the fourth year of the phase out period envisioned by state energy officials, a project of that size would be eligible for a $4 million subsidy.

In a letter sent to the governor and key legislators last week, the Renewable Northwest Project, a trade group for renewables developers, said the state should consider a maximum $7 million subsidy for large wind farms next biennium.

But the groups also urged lawmakers not to make any changes retroactively, or “reverse its commitments” to projects that had applied for-pre certification with the state.

“Reversing a promise,” RNP warned, “would invite lawsuits.”

At least one tax activist, meanwhile, called the report “a greenwash job.”

“It would take four years for the subsidy to be reduced to the amount that (the governor) vetoed in the bill,” said Jody Wiser, who heads a group called Oregon Tax Fairness. “I think it was supposed to make us nod our heads and say it’s okay. But it’s not.”

Ted Sickinger, The Oregonian


WSU to help implement Smart Grid

Filed under: Smart Grid,University Research,Washington — nwrenewablenews @ 10:32 pm
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Though the stimulus bill is no longer making headlines, its ripples are being felt throughout the country, even in Pullman.

WSU is partnering with Avista and Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories for the $38 million Pullman section in the Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project.

“We are involved because the whole system on campus will be automated,” WSU electrical engineering professor Anjan Bose said. “There will be communication between our grid and the control room at Avista.” Smart Grids use the automation to route power based on where it is needed. Both WSU and Schweitzer will serve as microgrids for Avista to study, Bose said.

WSU was chosen because of its electrical engineering college and its current grid, WSU Energy Systems Director Terry Ryan said.

“The electrical engineering college is well known throughout the area,” he said. “They will be able to consistently develop new tests for the grid and analyze the data.” The project was officially announced by the Department of Energy three weeks ago. Before the project can officially begin, WSU’s grid needs to be upgraded, Bose said.

“It’s a tree of projects, and we will begin working on it early next year,” he said. “Everything needs to engineered and installed. It will take at least two years before everything will be online.” The goal of the system is to make the grids more efficient by having more sensors relaying more data to computers that analyze the data in real time. The grids can then adjust and transfer power were it is needed, Ryan said.

“We have a generating plant and supplies on campus,” Bose said. “If Avista were short on power in certain areas, the grid could turn on our generator and transfer power to where they needed it. It would work the same way if WSU was short on power.” While there is no way to predict if the system will reduce costs, a smart grid system should cut back on hidden costs, Ryan said.

“It should reduce the impacts of power outages and improve the reliability of the system,” he said. “It is definitely a behind-the-scenes improvement.” The project is costing WSU nothing at this point, but that could change throughout the project’s course, Bose said.

Ryan Horlen, The Daily Evergreen –


First wind turbines OK’d for Sweet Grass County December 11, 2009

Filed under: Montana,Renewable Energy Projects,Wind — nwrenewablenews @ 4:47 pm
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Eight wind turbines have been approved for state-owned school trust property in Sweet Grass County as part of a larger wind farm that would be the county’s first.

Planned for the rolling terrain north of Interstate 90 south of the Crazy Mountains and three miles northeast of Springdale, the Coyote Wind Project would generate at least $21,600 in annual revenue for the state, said Dick Moore, area manager of the state Department of Natural Resource’s Southern Land Office in Billings.

Last Tuesday, the DNRC approved the eight turbines that are planned on school trust land.

The state Department of Environmental Quality conducted a survey of school trust property for wind development potential, and the Springdale site ranked second behind Judith Gap, where a 135-megawatt wind farm went on-line in 2006, Moore said.

On adjacent private land, 36 turbines are proposed, which would generate 64.8 megawatts of electricity. The eight state land turbines would generate 14.4 megawatts for a total of 79.2 megawatts.

That’s enough to power about 40,000 homes — if the wind farm is operating at full capacity, said Daniel Abelson, project manager for developer Enerfin, which is based in Spain but has an office in Portland, Ore.

The project is shovel-ready and transmission exists to ship the power, but when construction will begin depends on when the company reaches an agreement to sell the power, Abelson said.

He said the Montana site would produce the most electricity during the winter, when demand also is high in states such as Idaho and Oregon.

“Montana, and especially the Sweetgrass County area, has one of the best wind resources in the Northwest, so it’s a very attractive resource for utilities in the Northwest,” Abelson said.

On Aug. 10, the DNRC issued a draft environmental impact statement, collecting 177 written and oral comments from 21 citizens. The top concerns raised were the impact the facility would have on bats and birds and views, Moore said.

Two years of post construction monitoring of bats and birds will be required, Moore said. A technology advisory committee also will be formed to provide advice on corrective action if necessary, he said. The committee will include representatives from the state and federal wildlife agencies.

The poles will stand 262 feet tall but with the attached blades their total height will be 400 feet, Moore said.

Enerfin will pay the DNRC a one-time installation fee of $14,400, plus $21,600 year or 3 percent of gross annual revenue whichever is greater. The money will be placed on the common school trust, which is earmarked for schools.

KARL PUCKETT, Great Falls Tribune –