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Oregon’s Steens Mountain could soon have wind farms February 7, 2010

Ruggedly beautiful Steens Mountain stands in an area of southeast Oregon so isolated that it’s barely changed since cattle king Pete French arrived in the late 1800s.

Coyotes yelp at sundown. Drivers are so few that they wave to each other as they pass. Campers, hunters and bird-watchers trek from across the state to breathe in the majestic emptiness and to gaze from the Steens summit across a seemingly endless tapestry of high desert and open range.

But soon, the scenery will change.

Harney County has cleared Columbia Energy Partners of Vancouver to build a wind farm on the mountain’s north slope. By year’s end, 415-foot turbines could start rising from the juniper and sagebrush, among thousands of towers that developers are stampeding to build across eastern Oregon.

In addition, Columbia Energy has two more wind projects in the works for the Steens slope, plus another for Riddle Mountain to the northeast. A Houston company is scouting 18,000 acres to the south for a wind farm in the Pueblo Mountains, and more could follow.

“There are a number of sites being prospected by developers,” said John Audley of Portland’s Renewable Northwest Project, a coalition of companies and groups that promotes renewable-energy projects. “These prospectors are like old gold miners.”

Aside from wind farms, thousands of acres on Steens Mountain are open to homebuilding.

“We counted over 90 sites that you could come in tomorrow and make application to put homes on,” said Steve Grasty, chairman of the Harney County commissioners. One landowner won clearance to build hundreds of homes near the Steens’ Fish Lake.

But while some environmentalists are dismayed by the prospect of development on Steens Mountain — even if it’s green-friendly wind turbines — county officials are thrilled.

“We have an opportunity to put a $1.25 billion investment into this community,” said Grasty, referring to the value of Columbia Energy’s four wind projects and an accompanying transmission line.

“Holy mackerel, and it is an environmentally sensitive way to do it.”

To outsiders, it may seem unthinkable to build on the flank of an Oregon treasure. But to Harney County, it’s simple math.

A century after the close of the Western frontier, the county retains its gun-rack rawness. Residents are self-reliant, a necessity in a county bigger than nine states but with just 7,700 residents.

But the economy, long struggling, has been trampled in the recent recession. December’s jobless rate nudged 18 percent (compared with 11 percent statewide), not far from 1980’s record 21.8 percent, said Jason Yohannan, a state labor economist in La Grande.

The demise of RV-maker Monaco Coach in 2008-09 left Harney County with no manufacturing, Yohannan said, a change from the late 1970s when more than 1,000 residents worked as loggers or in the old Edward Hines Lumber Co. sawmill.

Columbia Energy unfurls the promise of a new industry — and jobs: 150 during an estimated four years of construction, plus 50 to 75 for maintenance after that, said Chris Crowley, Columbia Energy’s president.

Audley said that’s hard to pass up. “There hasn’t been a significant economic investment in Harney County in a long time,” he said. “For better or worse, this is the only industry I know of that’s investing (an average of) $700 million (per wind project) in rural Oregon.”

Grasty said he’s not worried about losing tourism because of the wind turbines. County tourism has grown only 5 percent in 20 years, he said, and the wind farms will be contained.

“They are islands of private property in a sea of public land,” he said.

So far, only Columbia Energy’s first wind farm has been approved: the $300 million Echanis Wind Project, with 40 to 60 wind turbines across 10,000 acres. It’s expected to produce 104 megawatts, enough to power some 30,000 homes.
The project hinges on U.S. Bureau of Land Management approval of the transmission line, which has two possible configurations: a 29-mile line possibly paralleling an existing line that crosses the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge just northwest of Steens Mountain, and a 46-mile line across mostly private land. Crowley expects to gain approval in the fall and launch construction on Echanis soon after.

Columbia Energy recently shelved its West Ridge and East Ridge wind projects headed for the Steens’ north flank, in the face of opposition from the Audubon Society of Portland and the Oregon Natural Desert Association in Bend.

Liz Nysson, spokeswoman for the desert association, said visitors will be appalled to find “industrial-scale wind development” on the slopes of Steens Mountain. The Echanis project, she said, also will be built on habitat for falcons, golden eagles and sage grouse, which is being considered for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Bob Sallinger, the Portland Audubon Society’s conservation director, called the area “an incredibly valuable landscape from a wildlife standpoint.”

“We have a gold-rush mentality in this state about wind,” he said. “We could look back in 10 or 15 years and wish we had done it differently and more thoughtfully.”

Both groups also accuse Columbia Energy of dividing the Steens projects into three pieces of about 104 megawatts each to skirt the state scrutiny that kicks in for projects of 105 megawatts or more.

But Crowley insisted the projects are legitimately separate: “They are on separate pieces of property. They will have separate substations. They will have separate financing.”

He also said Columbia Energy won’t sit on the West and East Ridge projects for long. The company expects to begin construction on one in 2012 and the other in 2013, when it also plans to launch construction on the Riddle Mountain project. All three will be about the same size as Echanis.

Crowley marveled at the area’s wind power. During a 24-hour test Jan. 10, the company clocked an average wind speed on the Steens’ north side of 41 mph.

“There is nowhere else with a resource like this in Oregon,” he said.

Cattle rancher Hoyt Wilson, meanwhile, has mixed feelings about his decision to lease land to Columbia Energy for the Echanis project.

“It’s not something I’m looking forward to,” said Wilson, 67, as he stood in a chilly breeze last week outside the shop and office for his 28,000-acre Mann Lake Ranch.

He remembers when cattle ranching was lucrative. “It used to be a lot of fun to ranch,” he said. “All you had to worry about was Mother Nature.”

But environmental lawsuits have forced the BLM to cut back on the number of cattle and amount of time they can graze on federal lands, pinching him and other ranchers, he said.

“It does you no good if you can run 1,000 cows on your own land for nine months, but you can only run 500 on BLM land for three months,” Wilson said. In other words, what happens to the other 500 cattle? Cows need so much room to graze, that even ranchers with significant land holdings rely on leasing federal lands for part of the year.

Wilson also worried that, after he and his wife die, his son and two daughters wouldn’t be able to afford the taxes on a property worth $4 million but generating no more than $60,000 a year in revenue.

The Columbia Energy deal will enable the family to keep the ranch intact and in the family. In exchange for a 20-year lease, he’ll receive a percentage of the gross sales from the wind farm’s output — about $5,000 to $7,000 a year per turbine.

“Windmills came along,” he said, “and, yeah, that is the way to make a buck.”

The economy comes into play for housing development as well. Under Measure 37, passed by voters in 2004 (and later scaled back by Measure 49), landowners could seek to develop their land under the rules in place at the time of purchase, or be compensated by county government for their economic loss.

But in Harney County, compensation is all but out of the question.

In 2007, for example, landowner Dan Jordan of Burns won the right under Measure 37 to build 640 homes below Fish Lake, a popular recreation site on Steens Mountain’s west side, after the county concluded it could hardly afford to pay him $6.4 million. Grasty said those plans were later scaled way back, and so far, Jordan hasn’t built anything.

Still, those who love the Steens’ open vistas and assume that the mountain is protected as wilderness might be surprised to learn how much of it rests in private hands.

The BLM manages 428,000 acres, including the 170,000-acre Steens Mountain Wilderness Area, and the state administers 1,000 acres. But an additional 67,000 acres on and around the mountain are privately owned, and most of that is at low elevation suitable for homes.

The county’s land-use plan allows ranch or farm dwellings on tracts of at least 160 acres, said Grasty, the county chairman. Owners are expected to maintain some farming or ranching operations, but a local real estate broker, Randy Wilson, said keeping horses or a cow or two is enough.

Wilson, a broker with United Country-Clemens Real Estate in Hines and no relation to Hoyt Wilson, said he’s seeing interest among urbanites eager to escape to Harney County.

“Every week, I get people looking for property,” he said. “A lot of hunters, a lot of people looking to retire.” If they can get access to electricity and county approval to build on or near the mountain, he said, “people are going to jump all over it.”

John Witzel, an outfitter and former rancher who lives in Frenchglen just west of Steens Mountain, said he’s seen a marked shift in attitudes toward development.

Witzel, 51, and his wife, Cindy, were denied permission in 1997 to build 15 guest cabins and a 25-room lodge on the mountain’s west side. After they won Harney County approval to build a “career school” instead, the state Land Use Board of Appeals in 2001 overturned the decision.

“We couldn’t do that because of the viewshed,” Witzel said. “Things have changed, obviously.”

For hard-pressed ranchers, wind turbines are “a way to carry on and keep going,” he said. “I don’t think any of them want to look at windmills, but that’s the way it is.”

Richard Cockle – The Oregonian


Seattle Gets Power from Trash January 21, 2010

Filed under: Landfill Gas,Utility Companies,Washington — nwrenewablenews @ 8:53 pm
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Customers of Seattle City Light recently started using power generated in part from their own rotting trash. It’s part of the city-owned utility’s push for more renewable energy.

Seattle residents recycle about half of their waste. The rest, about 400,000 tons a year, gets put on trains and shipped to a massive landfill in north-central Oregon. Waste Management, the company that runs the Columbia Ridge landfill, collects the methane gas produced as garbage decomposes and burns it to generate electricity. Waste Management’s Dean Kattler says that closes an energy loop.

“The waste collected in the city of Seattle goes to our Columbia Ridge landfill, and now the energy produced at the landfill comes right back to the city of Seattle.”

Seattle City Light is buying the entire output of the plant, enough to power more than 5,600 homes. That’s a small down payment on the new renewable power the utility has to find over the next decade. Under an initiative passed by Washington voters in 2006, most utilities have to get at least 15 percent of their juice from renewables by 2020.

Liam Moriarty, KPLU (FM)


Douglas Co. close to methane plant deal at landfill December 11, 2009

Filed under: Landfill Gas,Oregon,Renewable Energy Projects — nwrenewablenews @ 3:36 pm
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Douglas County commissioners say they may be close to a final agreement with the company that wants to produce electricity from the methane gas at the landfill.

Douglas County has been dealing with a company called Ameresco, that wants to build a generating plant at the county landfill on McLain Avenue to generate electricity.

The company hesitated when the county was considering trucking solid waste to another site to prolong the life of the landfill.

Ameresco was concerned that they would invest a huge amount and the landfill might not continue to have enough gas to make their investment pay off.

After weeks of negotiations, County Commissioner Doug Robertson said that they appear to be close to a settlement. “It appears that we’re headed for a successful conclusion. Everybody’s been busy, everybody’s been running around, including Ameresco, but they’ve been responsive to our requests and we’ve been likewise, we’ve been working with them. So, hopefully we can wrap this thing up,” said Robertson.

Ameresco says it’s a no-risk deal for the county, and they will get a share of the revenue produced from the power generation.

They say the more the company produces the more the county will receive.

Meanwhile, the county is still concerned about how to keep the landfill open as long as possible so they don’t have to build a new one, which they say would cost a tremendous amount of money under today’s environmental guidelines.

Dan Bain KPIC News (TV)


Southern Idaho Solid Waste planing a methane-fueled plant November 11, 2009

Filed under: Idaho,Landfill Gas,Renewable Energy Projects — nwrenewablenews @ 8:19 pm
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That bag of trash you’re about to toss could soon power someone’s home.

Southern Idaho Solid Waste is looking to build a methane-fueled generator at Milner Butte Landfill, which was established in the early 1990s in southern Cassia County and houses trash tossed by residents of seven south-central Idaho counties.

A methane-gas collection system came online in September and is currently feeding data to Josh Bartlome, the environmental specialist conducting the system’s initial testing. The landfill’s methane gas currently flows at between 315 and 330 standard cubic feet per minute, more than enough to support a generator in the future, Bartlome said.

The landfill’s new system is largely the result of federal regulations, Bartlome said. First, it had to be lined. Then other rules had to be met, including a collection and control system for the methane gas once the site met certain criteria.

Southern Idaho Solid Waste planned ahead, installing horizontal gas wells at the site over time.

“As we’ve been growing, we’ve been building at the same time,” Bartlome said.

When an emissions test last year found that the site would soon require the collection system, officials were prepared. Workers started to hook everything together in May, and the gas started flowing in September.

Right now, that gas is being burned off with a flare, something that does generate greenhouse-gas credits, Bartlome said. He reviews data every day from all aspects of the setup to make sure everything’s working as it should.

Milner Butte would become only the second landfill in Idaho to generate power from methane gas and sell it back to a utility. The only landfill that currently has such a sales agreement is the one run by Ada County, said Gene Fadness, spokesman for the Idaho Public Utilities Commission.

There, county officials partnered with a private company four years ago to set up generators now supplying 3.2 megawatts to Idaho Power Co. – enough to power 2,400 homes. The company supplied and owns the generators and buys the gas from the county, paying about $225,000 a year, said Ted Hutchinson, Ada County’s landfill manager. The arrangement works well enough that the county is currently drilling more gas wells that the company might then expand to include.

Milner Butte operators haven’t decided yet what to do with anything they generate, Bartlome said – sell it, provide it to member counties or something else altogether. But things certainly look promising.

“If everything stays as it is, we’re going to be ahead of schedule,” Bartlome said.

Nate Poppino, Magic Valley Times-News


Snohomish-based business converts landfill waste into electricity October 5, 2009

Filed under: Biofuels,Landfill Gas,Washington — nwrenewablenews @ 10:47 am
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After four years and only one contract, many companies would call it quits.

But Paul Tower kept his Snohomish-based business afloat. He took a second job. He wrote papers for engineering conferences. He waited.

Thirteen years and 167 projects later, Tower’s Applied Filter Technology is looking to expand at a time when few businesses are.

Applied Filter takes low-grade methane — from landfill waste, cow manure or municipal waste systems — and turns it into fuel to generate electricity.

“What we specialize in is getting the gas to a point where it can be used,” Tower said.

That technology is in demand as consumers increasingly demand cleaner sources of power and more environmentally friendly ways for dealing with waste. That’s why Applied Filter Technology recently won a $7 million contract to expand Klickitat County’s H.W. Hill Landfill Gas Power Plant.

The landfill, established in 1999, accepts tons of waste, with large quantities coming from King and Snohomish counties, said Darby Hanson, project engineer for the site.

“This landfill keeps growing all the time,” Hanson said.

The landfill’s existing waste-to-gas project, which has the capacity to produce roughly 10 megawatts of power, can’t keep up with the waste being sent there. The county, with the help of Applied Filter, plans to expand the plant’s capacity to about 37 megawatts.

“It’s enough to light thousands of homes in Washington,” Tower said.

Some of that electricity will flow back to Snohomish County as part of the PUD’s green power program.

Hanson liked Applied Filter’s bid because it came with a 10-year guarantee of producing electricity-grade gas, making Klickitat’s system easier and less expensive to operate. When the economy turns around, Hanson is confident that Klickitat will be able to find buyers for all the power that will be produced at the expanded site — at a profitable rate. The expansion is scheduled to be completed next summer.

For Tower’s Applied Filter, contracts like the one in Klickitat County translate into jobs. The company, which has a staff of five in Snohomish, will have 12 or 13 people working on the Klickitat project.

On a Friday afternoon in late September, Tower fields calls of interest from South Korea and France out of his Snohomish office and plans customer trips to Applied Filter Technology sites in California and the Midwest. Far from those lean early years, Applied Filter installs a project monthly on average. And demand doesn’t seem to be slowing, prompting Tower to consider expansion.

“I think people are changing their perspectives and want a better quality of life,” Tower said.

Despite a lack of consensus about the causes of global warming, the public generally supports efforts to reduce known contributors to global warming, Tower said. Applied Filter Technology helps isolate one of those known contributors — methane — and turns it into something useful.

“I think all of us as ratepayers believe an incremental step is better than no step,” he said.

That’s particularly true in the Pacific Northwest, where Tower located in 2000 from California. However, the Klickitat County project is Applied Filter’s only system in Washington. About two-thirds of Applied Filter Technology’s projects are in the United States, but the company has systems operating in Europe, the Pacific Rim and Canada.

Besides an increasing public demand for “green” products, Applied Filter’s business also benefited from declines in the costs to produce its systems. In the 13 years since the business sold that first system, costs have dropped about 40 percent, Tower said. The company has worked with a manufacturer in Iowa to standardize parts to help drive down costs.

As Applied Filter Technology has grown, so has its ability to help out prospective customers. The company can design, build and operate systems for municipalities, removing the major barriers: start-up and operating costs. Applied Filter owns and operates about 23 of the systems it has installed for municipalities.

That’s a long ways from Applied Filter’s beginnings. For Tower, the company’s success is hard to believe.

Back in 1996, “we were just trying to solve a problem for a customer,” he said.

Michelle Dunlop, HeraldNet


Garbage to power McMinnville, Ore. homes September 26, 2009

Filed under: Landfill Gas,Oregon,Renewable Energy Projects,Utility Companies — nwrenewablenews @ 1:11 pm

Waste Management Inc. on Wednesday broke ground on a $10 million plant in McMinnville that will create enough electricity from garbage to power 2,500 homes.

The plant will be located in the company’s Riverbend Landfill west of McMinnville and is expected to be operational in mid-2010.

As waste decomposes naturally, the new energy plant will collect the resultant methane gas and use it to power engines to generate electricity. The power will then be sold to McMinnville Power & Light.

Waste Management said the volume of electricity it generates could increase if the Yamhill County Board of Commissioners approves an expansion of the landfill.

Houston-based Waste Management Inc., the world’s largest solid waste company with annual revenue of $13.4 billion, developed the landfill-to-energy technology more than 20 years ago and now operates 111 landfill energy facilities in North America.

It has plans to develop another 160 by 2012, including one under way at its Columbia Ridge Landfill in Arlington, Ore., which will go online later this year.

The company in May formed a joint venture with Bend-based InEnTec LLC called S4 Energy Solutions LLC that will market, operate and develop InEnTec’s technology turns waste-created gas into multiple fuel types.

Portland Business Journal –


Douglas County, Ore. considering landfill methane plant September 3, 2009

Filed under: Biofuels,Landfill Gas,Oregon — nwrenewablenews @ 7:22 pm
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Douglas County commissioners decided Wednesday to continue negotiations with a company wanting to produce electricity from methane gas at the county landfill.

Commissioners Susan Morgan, Doug Robertson and Joe Laurance approved a 90-day extension of an exploratory contract with Massachusetts-based Ameresco.

An impasse over the county’s desire to control its garbage destiny had threatened to nix a deal to have Ameresco construct a 1-megawatt plant to harness energy from methane, a byproduct of rotting garbage.

The commissioners want to reserve the option to ship a portion of its garbage south to the Dry Creek landfill outside Medford as a way to relieve pressure on the Douglas County Landfill south of Roseburg.

Ameresco wants to ensure an adequate supply of methane from decomposed garbage to meet its electricity production estimates and to offset the $4 million it would spend to construct the plant at the landfill.

At current disposal rates, the landfill is expected to fill up within the next 11 years. When it quits operating, it could cost up to $33 million to meet state health and safety closure requirements.

Ameresco has offered the county $1 million in royalties over a 20-year period from electricity produced by the plant, which would be sold to Pacific Power.

The county, Robertson said, is willing to provide Ameresco with whatever methane is produced from the garbage already disposed of at the landfill. However, it wants to have the flexibility to take some of its trash to another facility, he said.

“We are not willing to enter into any kind of agreement that marginalizes what the county may or may not do with their landfill in the future,” Robertson said.

Commissioner Joe Laurance said the county also wanted to reserve its options in case new technology allowed the county down the road to process garbage in a different way. Ameresco official Jim Bier told the commissioners he didn’t see that kind of technology on the horizon anytime soon, but said his company’s process was “shovel-ready” and could provide an immediate benefit to the county.

“I want to remind you guys that Ameresco is here because Douglas County advertised their landfill at a national convention in Washington, D.C., about three years ago and after that issued a (request for proposals). So I’m not a snake oil salesman here trying to sell you something that you didn’t ask for,” Bier said, in urging commissioners not to terminate the company’s preliminary contract.

Thad Roth, an official with the Energy Trust of Oregon, told the commissioners that his organization has pledged a $1.2 million incentive to Ameresco to help offset the difference between the cost of generating electricity and current market rates.

The Energy Trust is funded by Oregon utility customers served by Pacific Power, Portland General Electric, NW Natural and Cascade Natural Gas. It invests in efficient technologies and renewable resources meant to save money and protect the environment.

“We think this is a strong project for its size,” Roth said.

John Sowell, The News-Review –