Northwest Renewable News

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Senator Tester Spends Presidents’ Day in the Flathead Valley February 15, 2010

Filed under: Biomass,Montana,Renewable Energy Projects,Wood Products — nwrenewablenews @ 4:43 pm

Senator Jon Tester talks jobs and renewable energy in the Flathead Valley.

The Senator started his day at F.H. Stoltze Lumber in Columbia Falls. The mission? To learn more about a biomass energy project the mill is hoping to push forward.

It’s called the Woody Biomass Combined Heat and Power Project. It’s basically a facility that would us leftover wood projects to generate clean, renewable electric power for the Northwest.

Stoltze’s Vice President says it would create 13 new jobs, but also hold on to about 200 current jobs in the forest industry.

The lumber company needs about $54 million dollars to build the facility, but managers say the end results outweigh the initial investment. County Commissioners were there to back up the project.

“This is an instance where I would be wiling to take some risks, because I do think the economic vitality of the forest industry, which is vital for Flathead County, whether people know it, for lots of reasons depends on innovative thinking and use of the biomass that’s out there,” Flathead County Commissioner Joe Brenneman said.

After Stoltze, Senator Tester went on to the Flathead County Landfill to talk more renewable energy. He toured the Flathead Electric site that turns methane gas from the landfill into electric energy. As the trash rots, it produces gas containing methane. The methane is then captured, and used to generate renewable energy. Right now, the landfill’s “Gas-to-Energy Plant” creates enough power for about 900 homes, with the ability to expand.

“This may not be the first in the country, but it’s the first in Montana and I think that if people come here and look at this,it’s really impressive and we’re getting something from a resource that was a liability and make it into an asset,” Senator Tester said. “And that’s really what’s important and I think it’s one of those things that, if we can create a few jobs and make this country more energy independent, it’s a win win deal.”

While in the Flathead, Tester also met with Kalispell Mayor Tammi Fisher and spoke with the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce.

Maritsa Georgiou, KECI (TV)–Day-in-the-Flath/6365577


Conservation efforts will play key role in meeting Northwest’s energy needs February 10, 2010

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 –


Bozeman company proposes solution to wind’s variability February 8, 2010

Carl Borgquist’s vision started with a whiteboard and a marker in his hands.

Five years later, the president of the Bozeman-based Grasslands Renewable Energy still flourishes a marker and sketches on the whiteboard to illustrate his plan for wind power in the Northern Plains.

Borgquist doesn’t build wind farms, rather he’s got a plan for collecting and transmitting wind power. Ultimately, he hopes to gather enough wind-generated electricity to equal the output of Hoover Dam, or two coal-fired power plants at Colstrip.

Borgquist refers to Grassland’s Wind Spirit Project as part of the theorized “smart grid.” What makes it “smart” is that it could solve the inherent problem of wind’s variability.

Should Borgquist’s vision come to fruition, he and his team at Grasslands are looking to build a system that will gather renewable energy from Montana, North Dakota and Canada and export a dependable 1,000 megawatts to markets in the Southwest and Northwest.

Grasslands has set a target date of 2017 for full build-out.

The project would involve roughly 1,300 miles of collector transmission lines, mostly in Montana, and a novel energy storage system. The two components together could cost $4 billion.

Add on the related wind farms and trunk transmission, which are not part of Grasslands’ project, and the entire package is likely to run in the $12 billion to $15 billion range.

“We have to do this big,” he said. “There’s no mileage in doing this small.”

Yet, Borgquist’s venture started small, literally “on a whiteboard.”

A tax attorney by training, with stints as a district attorney and U.S. Naval Judge Advocate in California, he was lured into the world of transmission while working with a client interested in developing a wind farm.

Borgquist knew that lack of transmission was the bottleneck that prevented the state from developing its plentiful wind resource. He saw the deficiency as a problem that needed fixing.

“Putting the wires in is not the sexy part of this,” he said. “But the way we move power is key. We need to get that figured out.”

Wind power, however, poses another drawback. Even if transmission were available, the erratic nature of wind threatens its economic feasibility.

Wind farm network

Even before Grasslands Renewable came into existence, Borgquist and founding group Absaroka Energy LLC were testing ideas. (Absaroka Energy later partnered with the Calgary-based Rocky Mountain Power to form Grasslands.)

By tracking wind at a variety of locations, they discovered that they could tap different wind sources to modify the peaks and valleys associated with individual wind farms. When wind was dead in Dickenson, N.D., for example, a gale could be blowing in Cut Bank, he said.

They postulated that, by packaging wind from several wind farms, the reliability of the resource would be enhanced.

Though the model proved promising, the data still failed to achieve the team’s desired result: to make wind power as reliable as a coal-fired power plant.

To approach their goal, they added a virtual 600-megawatt pump storage facility to the model.

The proposed closed-loop pump storage facility, which is planned for a site in central Montana, would consist of two large reservoirs of water, one of them 1,000 vertical feet higher than the other.

When wind blows in excess, the extra energy is used to pump water from the lower to the upper reservoir. When the wind dies down, water is released from the upper reservoir, creating hydropower for the grid.

“It’s like a big battery,” Borgquist said. “It’s clean and it’s environmentally friendly.”

The size of the reservoirs determines the hours of reliability, he said, and the vertical distance between the reservoirs determines the amount of energy that can be stored.

Though the concept is not uncommon in Europe, he said, the United States has only one utility-scale pump storage facility, built several decades ago in Virginia.

Lacing up the grids

As Grasslands refined its concept, the company drew the attention of Elecnor, a Spanish company that specializes in energy projects around the globe.

Founded in 1958, Elecnor employs nearly 5,000 people and saw $2.69 billion in sales in 2008.

“Elecnor found us, tracked us down,” Borgquist said, noting that the two companies are working on a deal that gives Elecnor the option to buy half of Grasslands.

Over the past few years, Borgquist and his expanding team have directed their efforts to all aspects of the project, from generation to delivery. He firmly believes the success of the Wind Spirit Project depends on coordinating all of the pieces together in one package.

As proposed, Grasslands’ large collection system would serve the eastern half of Montana and north-central Montana, with spurs branching out into Canada, North Dakota and possibly Wyoming.

The North Dakota line, a high-voltage 500 kilowatt direct current line, would cross from the Western Electricity Coordinating Council grid to the Midwest Reliability Organization grid, thus opening a new market for Montana wind and bringing additional reliability to the entire system, he said.

Once “lassoed” together, the power from many wind farms would be shipped to hubs planned for Toston and Harlowton. From there, trunk transmission lines such as the Mountain States Transmission Tie and TransCanada’s Chinook project, now in different stages of development, would move the electricity to population centers along the West Coast and in the desert Southwest.

“There’s no load to service in Montana,” Borgquist said, explaining why the power would go out of state.

“Montana will grow, but it won’t grow consistently with the amount of resource we have to develop,” he said.

Ready for FERC

With its feasibility study complete, its preliminary permit filed for the pump storage facility and its application set to go out to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in the next week or so, Grasslands is ready to introduce the project to a broader audience.

So far, Borgquist said, Grasslands has talked to 60 renewable energy developers, most working on wind projects. Already, they’ve completed initial agreements with seven of them and look forward to working with others.

Simultaneously, they’re poised to begin talks with landowners regarding right-of-way for the proposed collector line. Environmental analysis of transmission siting is also on the to-do list.

“We haven’t crystallized the map,” Borgquist said. “We’re still looking for resources to connect and ways to connect into the grid.”

Linda Halstead-Acharya, Billings Gazzette –


Mont. City and county seek funding for biomass project February 5, 2010

Filed under: Biomass,Co-Generation,Montana,Renewable Energy Projects,Wood Products — nwrenewablenews @ 8:30 pm
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Helena city commissioners signed on with Lewis and Clark County commissioners on Thursday to jointly pursue federal funding toward a possible biofuel energy project in the county on Thursday.

The county commissioners said Jan. 27 they would assemble an appropriations request for Montana’s congressional delegation in hopes of securing federal money for a possible project to use local trees to produce local energy.

The city commissioners then accepted a county invitation to join in on pursuing a planning grant for the project on Thursday, citing mutual interests.

The local biofuel project, possibly consisting of some sort of materials production plant and the installation of biomass boilers in certain city-county buildings, would primarily provide a use for millions of trees killed throughout the region by the pine bark beetle infestation.

“We have our own problems with (beetle-damaged trees on) the open lands that we’ve got — not enough to run a plant forever, but we’re interested in disposing of wood,” City Commissioner Paul Cartwright said.

“It makes sense to look at it area-wide. Can it be done? Because we’re all in the same valley whose problems we all suffer and whose benefits we all gain.”

Before completely jumping in, the city commissioners did make sure that the planning grant would include a feasibility assessment, to determine if the area has enough fuel to support the project, and a report on the possible level of air pollution from burning biomass to create heat or energy.

Sen. Jon Tester and Rep. Denny Rehberg both have previously told the Independent Record they would “absolutely” carry a funding request from the city or county for a biofuel project of some kind. Both the senator and the congressman, as well as city and county officials, have advocated looking into a smaller-scale production, not a full-fledged biomass energy plant.

At the Thursday meeting, though, the group said both Tester’s and Rehberg’s deadline is March 1 for such a proposal, leaving little time to prepare an appropriations request.

“We’ve addressed some of these questions just dealing with the dead wood on city open space,” said Cartwright, who admitted the county was still taking the lead on the proposal. “We’ve looked at how much can you take off without damaging the forest, how much you have to chip, how many dead snags you have to leave.

“I think for the city to go forward in a project like this, it’d have to meet those kinds of standards. We’re not going to mine the forest.”

Aside from possible fuel sources from public lands, the group also discussed recent interest voiced by non-industrial, private land owners as to making their pine bark beetle-damaged wood available to the project.

Trent Makela, Helena Independent Record


Biomass option still on the table for Flathead Electric February 2, 2010

Filed under: Biomass,Montana,Utility Companies,Wood Products — nwrenewablenews @ 3:55 pm

Flathead Electric Cooperative managers say they have long been exploring the potential for the development of a biomass cogeneration plant, but so far it has penciled out as the most expensive source to meet future power needs.

With the recent closure of the Smurfit-Stone container mill in Frenchtown, there has been a renewed interest in biomass cogeneration in the Flathead to serve as an alternative and productive destination for the region’s wood-waste products.

Chuck Roady, vice president of F.H. Stoltze Land & Lumber Co., outlined plans to build a cogeneration plant at the company’s sawmill facility west of Columbia Falls during a recent panel discussion at Flathead Valley Community College.

Roady said one of the biggest obstacles to the project is the relatively high cost of continually gathering biomass material to power the plant.

“We have the same interests as Chuck does in biomass,” said Kenneth Sugden, the cooperative’s general manager. “We’ve worked with Stoltze for about three or four years.”

It is true that the co-op will be faced with the need to meet a rising curve in future power loads because hydropower from the Bonneville Power Administration has been capped. The problem is that simply having BPA purchase power from other sources to meet power needs over the next 17 years would cost about half as much as the cost of local biomass generation.

The co-op estimates that adding a 15 megawatt biomass cogeneration plant to the local power grid would lead to electricity rate increases of more than 12 percent.

But Sugden stressed that the cooperative’s board of directors has never shut the door on the possibility.

“One of the misconceptions we hear is that our board has voted [on biomass cogeneration] and it hasn’t,” Sugden said. “Our board has said all along that we are interested.”

He said the board has instructed management to pursue all kinds of alternative energy sources. There is a state-directed goal of having 15 percent of the co-op’s power coming from renewable sources by 2015.

Sugden said the co-op worked with Plum Creek Timber Co. on a potential biomass cogeneration plant for several years, but the company suspended those plans in early 2008.

Now the Stoltze project has taken on a higher profile, largely because of the closure of the Frenchtown pulp mill.

“This has become a big issue and people want to talk about it,” said Mark Johnson, the utility’s assistant general manager. “It has become a more popular item.”

Johnson and Sugden said they will meet with Roady for more discussions on how to make biomass cogeneration more economically feasible.

“We’ve got to either make the project smaller or we have to get the costs down,” Sugden said, acknowledging that some form of government subsidy could advance the project.

Johnson said there currently are better government tax incentives and grant programs available for solar and wind energy projects than there are for biomass projects.

“If it were treated on par with solar and wind … it would be able to lower the cost of the Stoltze project,” Johnson said.

Solar and wind have won political favor because they are carbon-free energy sources. While biomass advocates maintain it is a “carbon-neutral” energy source, it is not considered to be as clean as wind and solar.

Johnson noted that wind and solar have the drawbacks of not being consistent sources of power and they are not likely to be significant energy sources in Northwest Montana. He said it is obvious to the co-op’s board that the region has abundant timber resources.

“For us, it is the major renewable in our area,” he said.

Sugden and Johnson acknowledged that many people would consider a 12 percent power rate increase to be palatable, particularly if it helped save jobs and the wood-products industry.

However, they said the board must account for the people who could not afford such an increase, particularly during an economic recession. Electricity rates already are slated to go up 3 to 5 percent this spring, an increase that the co-op incurred in October but intentionally deferred over the winter months.

“We have seen an incredible increase in people having a hard time being able to pay their bill,” Sugden said.

Johnson added that the co-op’s billing department is “talking to people they’ve never had to talk with before.”

They said the board must find “a balance” in new energy sources and affordability.

JIM MANN, The Daily Inter Lake –


4 major transmission lines planned to export wind energy from Montana January 31, 2010

At least four major power lines to export electricity from Montana are on the drawing board. Here is the status of the projects:

Mountain States Transmission Intertie: NorthWestern Energy, Montana’s largest electric-and-gas utility, is proposing this 430-mile, $1 billion line run from Townsend to southern Idaho.

The 500-kilovolt line would transport power generated in Montana to Southwestern markets. A draft environmental impact statement on the project is expected this year, and NorthWestern plans to accept bids this spring for space on the line. Construction is slated for some time in 2014 or 2015.

Collector System: NorthWestern also is proposing this network of lines to gather power from wind farms in Montana and route it to the Townsend hub, for transmission elsewhere.

Bids for space on the lines will be accepted at the same time as MSTI. Construction of all or portions of the line could begin in 2014 or sooner.

Chinook Transmission Project: TransCanada of Calgary, Alberta, is proposing this $3 billion, 1,100-mile line from Harlowton to southern Nevada. It says the line will carry mostly new wind power, to the Southwest.

In December, the company accepted bids from energy developers and suppliers to buy space on the line. TransCanada plans to announce winning bids by spring.

If all goes well, TransCanada will file for permits and conduct an environmental review between now and 2012 and start construction in 2012, a company spokesman said.

Colstrip transmission line upgrade: NorthWestern, utilities from Oregon and Washington, and the Bonneville Power Administration are considering on this project, which would increase the capacity of lines between Colstrip and the Pacific Northwest by 30 percent. The partners say the line is supposed to move “renewable” power, likely wind, from Montana into Washington and Oregon.

Discussions are under way on how the ownership and cost would be divided. The earliest the upgrade would occur is 2012.

MIKE DENNISON, Missoulian –