Northwest Renewable News

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Oregon Farmers examine biomass crops and power generation February 10, 2010

Local farmers Monday were invited to be involved in the renewable energy field, not only as producers of a crop that could be turned into a fuel, but also as owners of the power generation facility that would burn the crop to produce electricity.

The question is “are we going to be in the driver’s seat?” Randon Wilson, an attorney who specializes in forming agriculture co-ops, said. “We have to decide where we are in charge.”

Wilson told the group, gathered at the Boulevard Grange near Ontario, as members of a proposed co-op for production of biomass crops, they could own the whole process from farm to processing to generation, or they could just do a portion of it. That would include producing the biomass crop that would be turned into fuel or producing the crop and the processing facility that would turn the crop into pellets.

It would take about five months to construct a processing plant to make the pellets, Wilson said. Construction of a power plant will take 18 to 24 months, Renewable Ag Energy Inc. President Kirk Christensen said.

The meeting was hosted by representatives of Renewable Ag Energy, Inc., an Ontario company assisting a group of local farmers, Agri Energy Producers, to bring a new crop to Malheur County.

While there is more than one crop that would produce the biomass, the co-op proponents were mainly discussing high biomass sorghum.

The high biomass crops would be planted in late May. Irrigation and fertilizer applications would be similar to corn. It would be harvested in September or October. Chopped green, it would be hauled to a conversion facility, where it would be stored, dried, cubed and shipped.

Harvesting, hauling and processing costs will be absorbed by the co-op, Christensen said.

“We’re not playing the fuel market,” Christensen said.

The farmers would be paid for growing the crop and participate in the profits from the conversion plan and profits from the generation facility, he said.

“We can’t survive on just what is produced on the farm,” Wilson said. “We need more bites. We have to take a look at energy.”

It was estimated the power plant would support 17 to 20 family-wage jobs, Christensen said.

Choices include full integration, wholly owned by the farmers, or partial integration, linked with other joint ventures or investors, Wilson said. But, it becomes difficult when you mix producers and investors, Wilson said, because eventually there are tensions between the two interests.

“We would like to get the jump on creating a state-wide co-op,” he said, adding that different groups of growers could act as separate divisions.

Such a large co-op would give the producers a lot of clout, Wilson said.

“There is a significant market,” he said.

Wilson, Christensen and others were also meeting with representatives from state agencies this week to discuss the permitting processes, land-use and other regulation issues.

Larry Meyer, Argus Observer –


Conservation efforts will play key role in meeting Northwest’s energy needs

Filed under: Energy Efficiency,Idaho,Montana,Oregon,Washington — nwrenewablenews @ 4:34 pm

The Northwest should meet most of its electricity needs over the next two decades through extensive energy conservation efforts, and it’s going to take more than just changing light bulbs.

That’s the conclusion of a regional power blueprint the Northwest Power and Conservation Council that was unanimously approved Wednesday morning at council headquarters in dowmtown Portland. It focuses on the benefits of efficiency over building new power plants.

“For customers, it’s a good thing in that it’s very clearly saying the direction the region should go in terms of power supply is first and foremost energy efficiency,” said Bob Jerks, director of the Citizens’ Utility Board of Oregon.

The plan estimates about 85 percent of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana’s new power demand over the next 20 years – about 5,900 megawatts – could be met through conservation, with the rest coming from new renewable power sources like wind, as well as natural gas power plants.

The council says finding additional power through efficiency will be far cheaper than developing new power generation, whether from renewable sources like wind or traditional fossil fuel power plants.

“That’s good for the climate, and it’s good for pocket books,” Jenks said.

Significantly, the council says the region does not need to build any new coal-fired plants to power our iPods, ovens and electric cars.

But while efficiency is cost effective, it’s not free. The council estimates spending would need to step up from a quarter of a billion to $1 billion a year by 2018 to accomplish its efficiency goal. Those expenditures would show up as part of customers’ electricity bills.

That and the ambitious scope of the plan led to some pushback from the region’s electric utilities.

“That money is going to come from ratepayers, and that puts upward pressure on rates,” said Michael Early, executive director of Industrial Customers of Northwest Utilities. “And that’s not something utilities want to do in this economic environment,” when demand for power is not growing.

Council members praised the plan Wednesday for taking into account a future that includes strict regulation on carbon dioxide emissions from coal and other traditional power sources.

“Because carbon penalties loom in one form or another and uncertainty about those penalties abounds, the region can see the day when carbon emissions must be reduced,” Melinda Eden, one of the two council members from Oregon, said following the vote.

The plan’s estimated 5,900 megawatts of conservation – the rough equivalent of the power-producing capacity of 10 coal plants like Portland General Electric’s Boardman facility – would come through things like homeowners increasing insulation at their homes and business refitting their buildings with power-saving lights, as well as more complex improvements to the grid that distributes power around the region.

Utilities will take the plan into account when setting their own strategies for meeting the future demand of their customers. More directly, council policy guides the Bonneville Power Administration, the federal agency that sells electricity from the region’s dams.

The council and Bonneville are charged with balancing power needs with protecting imperiled salmon, and critics of the power agency say the council’s analysis shows the region can do away with 4 of its 31 dams to help fish without jeopardizing its energy future.

The unanimous passage of the plan comes after years of debate between council members and input from utilities and citizens’ groups.

Following Wednesday’s vote, Terry Morgan, the council’s director of power planning, compared those deliberations to the television reality program Survivor.

There were victories and defeats, he said, “and some of us were almost voted off the island.”

John Killen, The Oregonian


NW power plan: No coal, only wind, gas, efficiency

The latest energy plan for the Pacific Northwest has been adopted with the goal of limiting greenhouse gas pollution by increased conservation and wind power development.

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council unanimously adopted the regional energy plan Wednesday at a meeting in Portland.

The plan covers Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana for the next 20 years. But the council revises it every five years to keep up with changes.

The new plan says most of the increased demand for electricity in the Northwest can be met with improved efficiency, conservation and wind power.

Associated Press –


Idaho Power plans more generation from wind February 8, 2010

Idaho Power’s new plan for meeting anticipated customer energy needs for the next two decades shows the utility’s energy portfolio will grow increasingly diverse with a heightened emphasis on renewable sources.

Idaho Power filed its integrated resource plan for 2009 with the Idaho Public Utilities Commission in December.

// Wind energy is slated to become an increasingly substantial energy source for Idaho Power. Spokeswoman Stephanie McCurdy said the utility put out a request for proposals in May seeking 150 megawatts of wind power generation.

Now, Idaho Power has 192 megawatts of wind capacity in its system, and by 2012, McCurdy said the company expects to have more than 600 megawatts of wind power.

To ensure a stable power source at times when wind power wanes, Idaho Power plans to build a natural gas combined cycle combustion turbine capable of producing 300 megawatts of power, called the Langley Gulch plant, in Payette County. Construction on the project is scheduled to start this August, and the plant should be on line by July 2012.

Idaho Power’s plan also calls for 40 megawatts of geothermal power — about 20 megawatts of that total are part of a contract that’s awaiting approval by the IPUC.

The plan is updated every two years with input from Idaho Power’s Integrated Resource Plan Advisory Council, made of members from the general public, the government sector and environmental stakeholders.

The plan also outlines the company’s steps to promote energy efficiency. McCurdy noted Idaho Power has 17 energy efficiency programs and two educational initiatives pertaining to energy efficiency.

One is a credit of $7 per month for customers who allow Idaho Power to install devices on their air conditioners that cycle off air conditioning at peak hours.

Customers are free to share their opinions about the utility’s future plans or ask questions about the plan by emailing, but the public comment will not affect the 2009 integrated resource plan.

John O’Connell, Idaho State Journal


Idaho Power Files Plan To Meet Future Power Demand January 30, 2010

Idaho Power Co. has filed a plan with the state’s energy regulator detailing how it will meet growing customer demand over the next 20 years.

The state’s biggest utility says it intends to add 3,000 megawatts of power generated by a mix of natural gas, wind and geothermal to serve an estimated 680,000 customers by 2029. The company now serves about 486,000 customers.

The majority of the new energy is expected to come from the Langley Gulch natural gas plant now under construction near New Plymouth. Wind generation will provide 150 megawatts of energy, and geothermal sources another 40 megawatts.

The filing with the Idaho Public Utilities Commission also predicts increases in customer costs as the utility relies less on energy produced at coal-fired plants. About 78 percent of its electricity in 2008 came from hydroelectric and coal resources.
Idaho Power said it also hopes to reduce summer power demand by encouraging customers to use energy efficient appliances.

Associated Press


ISU gets grant for renewable energy training program

The federal government has awarded Idaho State University $1.5 million to establish a new program for training technicians suited to work in the renewable energy industry.

The U.S. Department of Labor grant will be funneled to ISU’s Energy Systems Technology and Education Center. Administrators will use the money to create a nine-month to certify technicians who can pursue careers in wind energy and other renewable energy fields.

Students completing the program will be certified as renewable energy technicians. With additional classes, they can obtain an associates degree in wind engineering or mechanical engineering technology.

The center hopes to begin offering classes in the renewable energy program in the fall of 2011.

Associated Press –


Forecast: NW Energy prices likely to rise modestly January 24, 2010

Energy prices in 2009 reflected both good and bad news for consumers; the good news was that prices for natural gas and oil were much lower than the previous year; the bad news was that a severe recession was part of the reason for the lower prices.

Looking ahead to 2010, I expect a modest recovery of energy prices, the extent of which depends to a large degree on the economy. A robust recovery from the recession would put more upward pressure on energy prices. A sluggish recovery would moderate energy price increases.

Oil prices should increase moderately during 2010. They remain high by historical standards even during the recession. The outlook for oil prices, however, must always be conditioned on developments in the Middle East. Changes in world oil prices quickly find their way to the gasoline station and consumers’ pockets.

Natural gas prices fell by about 50 percent between 2008 and 2009. Many consumers have seen the effects of this reduction in their natural gas bills as distributors pass along cost reductions in rates. I expect moderate natural gas price increases this year.

However, a new development is at work in the U.S. natural gas market that could affect future prices. A couple of years ago, natural gas supplies were expected to decline for the U.S. and Canada. Yet, improved drilling and recovery technologies have unlocked natural gas supplies from shale and other non-conventional formations. The result was a substantial increase in natural gas supplies that, combined with the recession, contributed to the collapse of prices in 2009. While there are questions remaining about the future of these non-conventional supplies, they are likely to help contain price increases for years to come. Nevertheless, the higher cost of developing these supplies will prevent large decreases in natural gas prices in the long term.

Electricity prices for consumers are less volatile than oil and natural gas prices. They are regulated to a greater extent and more insulated from market fluctuations. This is especially true in the Pacific Northwest, where hydroelectricity supplies a large share of our electricity. Hydroelectricity cost does not change directly based on fuel prices.

Future costs of electricity are increasingly likely to be affected by policies addressing climate change concerns. It is important to understand that, nationwide, electricity generation accounts for 38 percent of carbon dioxide emissions.

Because of the large presence of hydroelectricity in the Pacific Northwest, the electric generation share of carbon dioxide emissions is only 23 percent. For example, electricity generation in Washington state produces only 20 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions per kilowatt-hour of the total U.S. electricity generation.

Nevertheless, efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions are likely to significantly affect the cost of electricity. Electric utilities in Washington are subject to renewable portfolio standards that require growing shares of electricity supplies to be renewable. Renewable electricity generation is more expensive than existing generation and new natural gas-fired electricity generation. Proposed cap-and-trade systems for greenhouse gases would raise the cost of existing carbon dioxide-emitting generation, especially existing coal plants that account for 85 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions from the Northwest power system. Even improved efficiency of electricity use can raise electricity rates, while at the same time reducing electric bills for homes and businesses that participate because less electricity is consumed.

Conservation vs. new power

Carbon emissions and electricity costs were issues that the Northwest Power and Conservation Council addressed in its new draft Sixth Power Plan for the Pacific Northwest. The resource strategy advocated in the plan is an aggressive pursuit of improved efficiency (conservation) in homes, businesses, and factories.

The council found that much of the region’s expected growth in electricity needs could be met with conservation at far lower cost and risk than building additional generation. In addition, renewable electricity generation acquired to meet renewable portfolio standards in the region will help reduce carbon emissions. The region should improve the operational procedures of the power system to better integrate variable generation sources such as wind, but also should look for other small-scale renewable opportunities in local communities. After renewable power requirements are met, natural gas-fired generation is the next best source, if necessary. In the long-term, other forms of generation, efficiency, energy storage, or operational changes should be considered, researched, and demonstrated, including smart-grid technologies.

Such an energy strategy requires that the region’s citizens and businesses, working with their local utilities, participate in securing their own energy futures. Low-cost supplies of energy can no longer be taken for granted. But energy that is available can be used far more efficiently, reducing the impact of rising costs and resulting in a more sustainable economy.

Terry Morlan, Columbian forecaster; The Columbian