Northwest Renewable News

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Obama move to cut wave power funding upsets NW advocates May 30, 2009

The Obama administration has proposed a 25 percent cut in the research and development budget for one of the most promising renewable energy sources in the Northwest – wave and tidal power.

At the same time the White House sought an 82 percent increase in solar power research funding, a 36 percent increase in wind power funding and a 14 percent increase in geothermal funding. But it looked to cut wave and tidal research funding from $40 million to $30 million.

The decision to cut funding came only weeks after the Interior Department suggested that wave power could emerge as the leading offshore energy source in the Northwest and at a time when efforts to develop tidal power in Puget Sound are attracting national and international attention.

By some estimates, wave and tidal power could eventually meet 10 percent of the nation’s electricity demand, about the same as hydropower currently delivers. Some experts have estimated that if only 0.2 percent of energy in ocean waves could be harnessed, the power produced would be enough to supply the entire world.

In addition to Puget Sound and the Northwest coast, tidal and wave generators have been installed, planned or talked about in New York’s East River, in Maine, Alaska, off Atlantic City, N.J., and Hawaii. However, they’d generate only small amounts of power.

The Europeans are leaders when it comes to tidal and wave energy, with projects considered, planned or installed in Spain, Portugal, Scotland, Ireland and Norway. There have also been discussions about projects in South Korea, the Philippines, India and Canada’s Maritime provinces.

The proposed cut, part of the president’s budget submitted to Congress, has disappointed Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

“Wave and tidal power holds great promise in helping to meet America’s long-term energy needs,” Murray said, adding that Washington state is a leader in its development. “It’s time for the Department of Energy to focus on this potential. But playing budget games won’t get the work done.”

Murray’s staff said that while $16.8 billion in the recently passed stimulus bill is reserved for renewable energy and energy efficiency, none of it is earmarked for wave and tidal power.

Energy Department spokesman Tom Welch, however, said the Obama administration is asking for 10 times more for tidal and wave power than the Bush administration did.

“The trend line is up,” Welch said. “The department is collaborating with industry, regulators and other stakeholders to develop water resources, including conventional hydro.”

Murray sees it differently. Congress appropriated $40 million for the current year, so the Obama administration proposal actually would cut funding by a fourth.

Utility officials involved in developing tidal energy sources said the administration’s approach was shortsighted.

“We need all the tools in the tool belt,” said Steve Klein, general manager of the Snohomish County Public Utility District. “It’s dangerous to anoint certain sources and ignore others.”

The Snohomish PUD could have a pilot plant using three tidal generators installed on a seabed in Puget Sound in 2011. The tidal generators, built by an Irish company, are 50 feet tall and can spin either way depending on the direction of the tides. The units will be submerged, with 80 feet of clearance from their tops to the water’s surface. They’ll be placed outside of shipping channels and ferry routes.

The pilot plant is expected to produce one megawatt of electricity, or enough to power about 700 homes. If the pilot plant proves successful, the utility would consider installing a project that powered 10,000 homes.

“A lot of people are watching us,” Klein said.

The Navy, under pressure from Congress to generate 25 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2025, will install a pilot tidal generating project in Puget Sound near Port Townsend next year.

In Washington state, law requires that the larger utilities obtain 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. The law sets up interim targets of 3 percent by 2012 and 9 percent by 2016.

Most of the attention so far has focused on developing large wind farms east of the Cascade Mountains. Because wind blows intermittently, however, the region also needs a more reliable source of alternative energy. Tidal and wave fit that need. Also, at least with tidal, the generators would be closer to population centers than the wind turbines in eastern Washington.

“The potential is significant and (tidal and wave) could accomplish a large fraction of the renewable energy portfolio for the state,” said Charles Brandt, director of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s marine sciences lab in Sequim.



Klamath farmers oppose planned dam removals May 14, 2009

For several weeks now, farmer Tom Mallams has been carting around the Oregon Capitol a 1-foot-thick bundle of petitions signed by 1,850 Klamath area residents opposed to a plan to remove four Klamath River dams.

The bundle, he said, is heavy and cumbersome. But it is the best way he knows to show lawmakers the considerable opposition to the dam-removal plan.

The plan, called the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, was hammered out over a four-year period by a diverse group of stakeholders, including farmers, ranchers, tribes, conservation groups, fishermen, federal agencies and PacifiCorp, which owns the dams and uses them to generate electricity.

Individual stakeholders, according to the group, all compromised in coming to terms on what they say is the best solution to a controversy that spans decades.

The controversy boiled over in 2001 when the federal government ordered water masters to shut off the flow of Klamath River water to irrigation canals. The shut-off cost Klamath Basin farmers millions of dollars in lost crops.

In addition to removing the four dams, the restoration plan calls for farmers in the Klamath Basin irrigation project to leave in-stream up to 100,000 acre feet of water in dry years – or nearly one-third of their water allocation claims – in exchange for water-delivery assurances.

Farmers outside the project are being asked to leave up to 30,000 acre feet of water in-stream for fish.

The loss of irrigation supplies is painful, said Greg Addington, head of the Klamath Water Users Association. But, Addington said, to be assured of some water is better than risking another complete shut-off.

Under the plan, PacifiCorp ratepayers would pay $200 million toward the cost of removing the dams. California lawmakers are preparing a $250 million bond measure to put before voters to provide backup if the costs exceed $200 million.

Oregon ratepayers, which comprise about 90 percent of PacifiCorp’s approximately 600,000 customers, would pony up $180 million of the $200 million ratepayer fund.

The plan calls for PacifiCorp to start removing the dams in 2020. The projected completion date is 2025.

The stakeholders, one and all, call the plan a major achievement.

But Mallams and others disagree.

In hearings before legislative committees on a bill that would set the plan in motion by capping Oregon ratepayers’ responsibility at $180 million, they argue the potential loss of irrigation water could devastate their ability to raise crops.

And, they say, removing the dams could cost PacifiCorp ratepayers – and possibly Oregon taxpayers – billions of dollars in unforeseen costs.

The opponents, who claim they were shut out of the stakeholder negotiations – a contention other stakeholders deny – say the $450 million top figure of dam-removal costs falls woefully short. As evidence, they point to two studies – one commissioned by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission showing costs could reach $4.5 billion and another showing costs peaking in the $840 million range.

Who, they wonder, will get stuck paying those added costs?

Supporters counter that so-called “off-ramps” are built into the plan. If additional studies show costs will exceed the $450 million top figure, they say federal agencies and others will rethink the plan. Further muting overrun concerns, they say, the Oregon Public Utilities Commission must sign off on rate increases, providing another off-ramp.

The restoration plan’s genesis can be traced to two events: the water shutoff in 2001, which showed Klamath Basin farmers what can happen if they do nothing to protect endangered salmon runs, and the pending expiration of PacifiCorp’s federal license to operate the dams. As part of relicensing provisions, PacifiCorp has been ordered to install fish ladders and conduct other extensive and expensive improvements to the structures, which are 50 years or more old.

A FERC study estimates the expense of installing fish ladders at $350 million.

Also on the table is a state law requiring utilities to generate 25 percent of the state’s power from renewable resources by 2025. Removing the dams and replacing the lost power with renewable energy resources will help PacifiCorp meet those requirements, company officials said.

Also on the plus side, dam removal is expected to enhance fish runs, opening traditional spawning grounds now off-limits to endangered salmon – a contention Mallams and others dispute.

“This offers us the surest and quickest ways of restoring fish runs,” said Jeff Mitchell, tribal council member for the Klamath Tribes. “We’ve gone without salmon now for decades.”

The biggest unknown in the dam-removal cost is the toxicity of sediment that has built up behind the four dams. Particularly worrisome is the amount of asbestos, which was used extensively in dam construction.

Preliminary studies show the sediment contains only minor levels of toxicity. But those studies, even proponents admit, are cursory. Comprehensive studies are planned before steps are taken to remove the dams.

If the sediment is found to be highly toxic, project backers say the secretary of the federal Department of the Interior could put a halt to the plan in 2012, when the department is projected to rule on whether to go forward.

At that point, money collected from ratepayers in a surcharge pot called for in Senate Bill 76 would either be reimbursed or put toward a beneficial use. For example, it could go toward paying for fish ladders and other structural improvements necessary to relicense the dams.

But opponents say the opt-outs don’t provide sufficient protection against officials pushing the plan forward even if dam removal costs skyrocket.

Also, they say, at some point in the dam decommissioning process it will be too late to turn back – regardless of the level of toxicity found in the sediment.

Opponents also question whether PacifiCorp can replace the lost power. If nothing else, they argue, lawmakers should wait for further studies before passing any bill that sets the plan in motion.

“It is irresponsible for us to render a decision on SB76 at this time,” Rep. Bill Garrard, R-Klamath Falls, said in testimony before a House committee last week.

Garrard also told committee members the majority of people in his district oppose dam removal.

“I ask you to please wait until we know if dam removal is the right thing to do,” he said.

Plan proponents, meanwhile, say it is critical to move forward now with Senate Bill 76. By amortizing the cost to ratepayers over 10 years, they say, it will add only between $1.50 and $1.80 a month to the average electric customer’s bill.

Waiting to implement the surcharge, they say, puts ratepayers at risk for a dramatic rate increase at some future date.

“This bill is needed now, not only to demonstrate Oregon’s commitment to the (restoration) agreement, but to soften the impact on ratepayers.” said Mike Carrier, natural resources policy advisor for Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

But adopting SB76, opponents argue, sets in motion a slippery slope they fear could be far more costly for ratepayers in the long run.

Mitch Lies, Capital Press


Ocean power surges amid tide of energy alternatives May 9, 2009

Three miles off the craggy, wave-crashing coastline near Humboldt Bay, Calif., deep ocean swells roll through a swath of ocean that is soon to be the site of the nation’s first major wave-power project.

Like other renewable energy technology, ocean power generated by waves, tidal currents, or steady offshore winds has been considered full of promise yet perennially years from reaching full-blown commercial development.

That’s still true – commercial-scale deployment is at least five years away. Yet there are fresh signs that ocean power is surging. And if all goes well, WaveConnect, the wave-energy pilot project at Humboldt that’s being developed by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E), could by next year deploy five commercial-scale wave systems, each putting 1 megawatt of ocean-generated power onto the electric grid.

At less than 1 percent of the capacity of a big coal-fired power plant, that might seem a pittance. Yet studies show that wave energy could one day produce enough power to supply 17 percent of California’s electric needs – and make a sizable dent in the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Nationwide, ocean power’s potential is far larger. Waves alone could produce 10,000 megawatts of power, about 6.5 percent of US electricity demand – or as much as produced by conventional hydropower dam generators, estimated the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the research arm of the public utility industry based in Palo Alto, Calif., in 2007. All together, offshore wind, tidal power, and waves could meet 10 percent of US electricity needs.

That potential hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Obama administration. After years of jurisdictional bickering, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the Department of Interior last month moved to clarify permitting requirements that have long slowed ocean energy development.

While the Bush administration requested zero for its Department of Energy ocean-power R&D budget a few years ago, the agency has reversed course and now plans to quadruple funding to $40 million in the next fiscal year.

If the WaveConnect pilot project succeeds, experts say that the Humboldt site, along with another off Mendocino County to the south, could expand to 80 megawatts. Success there could fling open the door to commercial-scale projects not only along California’s surf-pounding coast but prompt a bicoastal US wave-power development surge.

“Even without much support, ocean power has proliferated in the last two to three years, with many more companies trying new and different technology,” says George Hagerman, an ocean-energy researcher at the Virginia Tech Advanced Research Institute in Arlington, Va.

Wave and tidal-current energy are today at about the same stage as land-based wind power was in the early 1980s, he says, but with “a lot more development just waiting to see that first commercial success.”

More than 50 companies worldwide and 17 US-based companies are now developing ocean power prototypes, an EPRI survey shows. As of last fall, FERC tallied 34 tidal-power and nine wave-power permits with another 20 tidal-current, four wave-energy, and three ocean-current applications pending.

Some of those permits are held by Christopher Sauer’s company, Ocean Renewable Power of Portland, Maine, which expects to deploy an underwater tidal-current generator in a channel near Eastport, Maine, later this year.

After testing a prototype since December 2007, Mr. Sauer is now ready to deploy a far more powerful series of turbines using “foils” – not unlike an airplane propeller – to efficiently convert water current that’s around six knots into as much as 100,000 watts of power. To do that requires a series of “stacked” turbines totaling 52 feet wide by 14 feet high.

“This is definitely not a tinkertoy,” Sauer says.

Tidal energy, as demonstrated by Verdant Power’s efforts in New York City’s East River, could one day provide the US with 3,000 megawatts of power, EPRI says. Yet a limited number of appropriate sites with fast current means that wave- and offshore-wind power have the largest potential.

“Wave-power technology is still very much in emerging pre-commercial stage,” says Roger Bedard, ocean technology leader for EPRI. “But what we’re seeing with the PG&E WaveConnect is an important project that could have a significant impact.”

Funding is a problem. As with most renewable power, financing for ocean power has been becalmed by the nation’s financial crisis. Some 17 Wall Street finance companies that had funded renewables, including ocean power, are now down to about seven, says John Miller, director of the Marine Renewable Energy Center at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth.

Even so, entrepreneurs like Sauer aren’t close to giving up – and even believe that the funding tide may have turned. Private equity and the state of Maine provided funding at a critical time, he says.

“It’s really been a struggle, particularly since mid-September when Bear Sterns went down,” Sauers says. “We worked without pay for a while, but we made it through.”

Venture capitalists are not involved in ocean energy right now, he admits. Yet he does get his phone calls returned. “They’re not writing checks yet, but they’re talking more,” he says.

When they do start writing checks, it may be to propel devices such as the Pelamis and the PowerBuoy. Makers of those devices, and more than a dozen wave-power companies worldwide, will soon vie to be among five businesses selected to send their machines to the ocean off Humboldt.

One of the major challenges they will face is “survivability” in the face of towering winter waves. By that measure, one of the more successful generators – success defined by time at sea without breaking or sinking – is the Pelamis, a series of red metal cylinders connected by hinges and hydraulic pistons.

Looking a bit like a red bullet train, several of the units were until recently floating on the undulating sea surface off the coast of Portugal. The Pelamis coverts waves to electric power as hydraulic cylinders connecting its floating cylinders expand and contract thereby squeezing fluid through a power unit that extracts energy.

An evaluation of a Pelamis unit installed off the coast of Massachusetts a few years ago found that for $273 million, a wave farm with 206 of the devices could produce energy at a cost of about 13.4 cents a kilowatt hours. Such costs would drop sharply and be competitive with onshore wind power if the industry settled on a technology and mass-produced it.

“Even with worst-case assumptions, the economics of wave power compares favorably to wind power,” the 2004 study conducted for EPRI found.

One US-based contestant for a WaveConnect slot is likely to be the PowerBuoy, a 135-five-foot-long steel cylinder made by Ocean Power Technology (OPT) of Pennington, N.J. Inside the cylinder that is suspended by a float, a pistonlike structure moves up and down with the bobbing of the waves. That drives a generator, sending up to 150 kilowatts of power to a cable on the ocean bottom. A dozen or more buoys tethered to the ocean floor make a power plant.

“Survivability” is a critical concern for all ocean power systems. Constant battering by waves has sunk more than one wave generator. But one of PowerBuoy’s main claims is that its 56-foot-long prototype unit operated continuously for two years before being pulled for inspection.

“The ability to ride out passing huge waves is a very important part of our system,” says Charles Dunleavy, OPT’s chief financial officer. “Right now, the industry is basically just trying to assimilate and deal with many different technologies as well as the cost of putting structures out there in the ocean.”

Beside survivability and economics, though, the critical question of impact on the environment remains.

“We think they’re benign,” EPRI’s Mr. Bedard says. “But we’ve never put large arrays of energy devices in the ocean before. If you make these things big enough, they would have a negative impact.”

Mr. Dunleavy is optimistic that OPT’s technology is “not efficient enough to rob coastlines and their ecosystems of needed waves. A formal evaluation found the company’s PowerBuoy installed near a Navy base in Hawaii as having “no significant impact,” he says.

Gauging the environmental impacts of various systems will be studied closely in the WaveConnect program, along with observations gathered from fishermen, surfers, and coastal-impact groups, says David Eisenhauer, a PG&E spokesman, says.

“There’s definitely good potential for this project,” says Mr. Eisenhauer. “It’s our responsibility to explore any renewable energy we can bring to our customers – but only if it can be done in an economically and environmentally feasible way.”

Offshore wind is getting a boost, too. On April 22, the Obama administration laid out new rules on offshore leases, royalty payments, and easement that are designed to pave the way for investors.

Offshore wind power is a commercially ready technology, with 10,000 megawatts of wind power already deployed off European shores. Studies have shown that the US has about 500,000 megawatts of potential offshore wind power. Across 10 to 11 East Coast states, offshore wind could supply as much as 20 percent of the states’ electricity demand without the need for long transmission lines, Hagerman notes.

But development has lagged, thanks to political opposition and regulatory hurdles. So the US remains about five years behind Europe on wave and tidal and farther than that on offshore wind, Bedard says. “They have 10,000 megawatts of offshore wind and we have zero.”

While more costly than land-based wind power, new offshore wind projects have been shown in some studies to have a lower cost of energy than coal projects of the same size and closer to the cost of energy of a new natural-gas fired power plant, Hagerman says.

Offshore wind is the only ocean-energy technology ready to be deployed in gigawatt quantities in the next decade, Bedard says. Beyond that, wave and tidal will play important roles.

For offshore wind developers, that means federal efforts to clarify the rules on developing ocean wind power can’t come soon enough. Burt Hamner4plans a hybrid approach to ocean energy – using platforms that produce 10 percent wave energy and 90 percent wind power.

But Mr. Hamner’s dual-power system has run into a bureaucratic tangle – with the Minerals Management Service and FERC both wanting his company to meet widely divergent permit requirements, he says.

“What the public has to understand is that we are faced with a flat-out energy crisis,” Hamner says. “We have to change the regulatory system to develop a structure that’s realistic for what we’re doing.”

To be feasible, costs for offshore wind systems must come down. But even so, a big offshore wind farm with hundreds of turbines might cost $4 billion – while a larger coal-fired power plant is just as much and a nuclear power even more, he contends.

“There is no cheap solution,” Hamner says. “But if we’re successful, the prize could be a big one.”



Wave Power Coming on Slow Rollers April 21, 2009

Two years ago, there was a “gold rush” on the ocean to stake claims for wave energy. Now the spray is settling. As it clears, fewer heads remain above water. Energy developers have given up on about a quarter of the wave projects they proposed along the West Coast. Some tidal power proposals are ebbing away as well. The slow arrival of this new source of renewable energy is just fine with some coastal residents who still harbor doubts about the technology. We get more on the story from KPLU’s Tom Banse.

For more information:
Congressional letter – March 2009 Congressional letter requesting $250 million of DOE stimulus funds be set aside for marine renewable power technology R&D. Signers include Jay Inslee (D-WA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Kurt Schrader (D-OR), and David Wu (D-OR)

West Coast wave energy projects proposed to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ( listed from north to south (filing date):

P-12751 Makah Bay (Finavera) application to surrender license filed 2/09

P-13058 Grays Harbor Ocean Energy (Grays Harbor Ocean Energy Company, LLC) 11/2007

P-13047 Oregon Coastal Wave Energy (Tillamook Intergovernmental Dev. Entity) 10/2007

P-12750 Newport OPT Wave Park (Ocean Power Technologies) permit surrendered 3/09

P-12793 Florence Oregon Ocean Wave Project (Oceanlinx) 4/2007, withdrawn 4/08

P-12713 Reedsport OPT Wave Park (Ocean Power Technologies) 3/2006

P-12743 Douglas County Wave Energy (Douglas County, OR) 9/2006 (oscillating column device on Umpqua River jetty)

P-12749 Coos Bay OPT Wave Park (Ocean Power Technologies) 3/2006

P-12752 Coos County Offshore (Bandon, Oregon) (Finavera) permit cancelled w/o objection 6/08

P-12779 Humboldt County WaveConnect (PG&E) 2/07

P-12753 Humboldt County Wave Energy (Finavera) permit surrendered 2/09

P-13075 Centerville OPT Wave Park (Ocean Power Technologies) 11/2007

P-12781 Mendocino County WaveConnect (PG&E) 2/07

P-13053 Green Wave Mendocino Wave Park (Green Wave Energy Solutions, LLC) filed 10/07 pending

P-13377 and P-13378 Fort Ross Project- N & S (Sonoma County Water Agency) 2/09 pending

P-13376 Del Mar Landing Project (Sonoma County Water Agency) 2/09 pending

P-13308 San Francisco Ocean Energy Project (Grays Harbor Ocean Energy Company, LLC) 10/08 pending

P-13379 San Francisco Ocean Energy Project (City and County of SF) 2/09 pending

P-13052 Green Wave San Luis Obispo Wave Park (Green Wave Energy Solutions, LLC) filed 10/07 pending

P-13309 Ventura Ocean Energy Project (Grays Harbor Ocean Energy Company, LLC) filed 10/08 pending

Total proposed wave energy projects since 2006: 21
Total projects scrubbed for any reason: 5



House passes wilderness/Renewable energy lands bill March 25, 2009

Congress on Wednesday set aside more than 2 million acres in nine states as protected wilderness – from California’s Sierra Nevada mountains to the Jefferson National Forest in Virginia.

The legislation is on its way to President Barack Obama for his likely signature.

The House approved the bill, 285-140, the final step in a long legislative road that began last year.

The vote came two weeks after the House rejected the bill amid a partisan dispute over gun rights. The measure was brought up again in the Senate and approved last week, setting up Wednesday’s vote.

The bill – a collection of nearly 170 separate measures – would be one of the largest expansions of wilderness protection in a quarter-century. It would confer the government’s highest level of protection on land in California, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia.

Supporters called the bill landmark legislation that will strengthen the national park system, restore national forests, preserve wild and scenic rivers, protect battlefields and restore balance to the management of public lands.

Opponents, mostly Republicans, called the bill a “land grab” that would block energy development on vast swaths of federal land.

“After nearly a decade during which our parks were taken for granted and our range lands were scarred by a spider-web of roads and (drilling) well pads,” the lands bill “represents a new dawn for America’s heritage and American values,” said Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.

Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., and other Republicans complained that the measure would lock up millions of acres of land that could be explored for energy and used for other development.

“Our nation can’t afford to shut down the creation of jobs for jobless Americans, and we can’t afford to become even more dependent on foreign sources of energy,” Hastings said.

The bill “even locks up federal lands from renewable energy production, including wind and solar,” he said.

Hastings and Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill to allow visitors to national parks to carry concealed, loaded weapons. A federal judge last week struck down a Bush administration rule allowing loaded guns in parks and wildlife refuges.

Because of a parliamentary rule adopted in the Senate, the House took up the bill under a rule that blocked amendments.

Land to be protected in the bill ranges from California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range and Oregon’s Mount Hood to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and parts of the Jefferson National Forest in Virginia.

Land in Idaho’s Owyhee canyons, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan and Zion National Park in Utah also would win designation as wilderness, and more than 1,000 miles of rivers in nearly a dozen states would gain protections. The proposals would expand wilderness designation – which blocks nearly all development – into areas that now are not protected.

The bill also would let Alaska go forward with plans to build an airport access road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge as part of a land swap that would transfer more than 61,000 acres to the federal government, much of it designated as wilderness.

The bill is H.R. 146.

By MATTHEW DALY, The Associated Press –


Governors envision eco-friendly fuels at I-5 rest stops March 11, 2009

Filed under: Biofuels,Northern California,Oregon,Washington — nwrenewablenews @ 1:18 am

Gov. Chris Gregoire and her counterparts in Oregon and California are considering a plan they hope would help transform Interstate 5 from a freeway ruled by gasoline burners to a haven for eco-friendly cars and trucks.

The three governors envision a series of alternative fueling stations stretching from the Canadian border to Mexico, creating what has been dubbed a “green freeway.”

As the plan stands, motorists eventually would be able to pull off at I-5 rest stops for more than a cup of coffee and roadside relief: They also would be able to charge, or swap out, their electric-vehicle batteries or fill their tanks with biodiesel, ethanol, hydrogen or compressed natural gas.

The idea is drawing opposition from interest groups that say the state-approved stations would compete with nearby private businesses.

But supporters say services for alternative-fuel vehicles are often tough to find near the 1,382-mile interstate. If approved, the project could begin in Washington as early as this coming summer.

It would mark the first time U.S. drivers could travel a long stretch of freeway with easy access to alternative fuel.

“We originally coined it the B.C.-to-Baja green highway,” said Jeff Doyle, director of public-private partnerships at the Washington State Department of Transportation. “The three states are trying to find out if we can all march forward together.”

The fueling stations and battery swap-out docks would be the first businesses allowed by West Coast states to operate at rest stops, Doyle said. To help companies with their initial costs, they would not be charged rent until they started turning a profit, he said.

The move would need to clear layers of local and federal approval. Supporters say the plan would fit with the nationwide push for green jobs and alternative-energy development, and put the states in line for some of the $15 billion in federal stimulus money dedicated to energy-related programs.

Marty Brown, Gregoire’s legislative liaison, said Gregoire, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski are beginning to figure out how to make the plan work. The three briefly discussed the idea last month during a meeting in Washington, D.C.

Priming investment

Doyle said he has been working with the Oregon and California transportation departments for months in developing a way to “partner with next-generation fuel providers to spur private investment.”

He said Oregon and California are not likely to start on their ends of the project as soon as Washington, which also is looking at setting up alternative-fuel stations at Park-and-Ride lots.

Separately in Olympia, Rep. Deb Eddy, D-Kirkland, is sponsoring a bill that would give businesses a sales-tax exemption to establish battery charging and exchange stations, as well as create the infrastructure to transform the state automobile fleet from gasoline to electric.

“If we expect to ever meet our state greenhouse-gas goals, we will have to tackle transportation,” Eddy said.

Eddy said she is not working with Gregoire and the California and Oregon governors in her efforts, but she said she’d like charging and battery swap-out stations at rest stops by the end of 2015.

Eddy said her proposal, House Bill 1481, is likely to be voted out of the House in coming days.

Business opposition

Jim Whitty, manager of the Innovative Partnerships and Alternative Funding office in Oregon, said his state wants to push forward with the rest-stop fueling stations but is tied up by opposition from the National Association of Truck Stop Operators (NATSO) and national gasoline distribution groups.

NATSO contends the stations would draw potential customers from truck stops, hotels, restaurants and other businesses near rest stops.

The owner of a Eugene, Ore., company that works with I-5 tractor-trailer drivers to reduce greenhouse emissions by upgrading their vehicles, remains hopeful for the rest-stop businesses. Sharon Banks, CEO of Cascade Sierra Solutions, said the proposal would appeal to truckers who choose rest areas over truck stops as places to pull off the freeway.

In the Puget Sound region, Susan Fahnestock, who co-owns Bellevue’s Green Car Co., which sells electric, plug-in hybrid and biodiesel vehicles, said the proposal is timely because numerous types of electric cars are hitting the market.

“I think people know this is coming. We have got to start somewhere,” Fahnestock said.

Doyle said he’s slogging through the legalities of getting the federal government to approve commercial development alongside an interstate. He said that if the plan is approved, the rest stops would not resemble some East Coast rest areas that feature fast-food restaurants and souvenir shops.

Doyle said the state wouldn’t want alternative-fuel stations to disrupt rest-area traffic, so contract companies would have to provide small, low-profile setups. Doyle added that rest-stop fueling sites would be self-service and likely to have little or no on-site staffing.

There already are dozens of compressed natural gas, ethanol and biodiesel stations in Washington and Oregon, but the closest hydrogen station is at Humboldt State University in Northern California.

Company interested

Doyle said no contracts for the fuel stations have been signed. But the head of a California-based company that has electric-car service stations in Israel, and is in the midst of expanding to Hawaii, the Bay Area, Australia and Ontario, Canada, has met with Gregoire, Brown said.

The company, Better Place, is led by Shai Agassi, a former Silicon Valley software executive who has been traveling the world touting his vision of a network of electric-vehicle charging stations.

Jeff Miller, who works in global development at Better Place, said that if the company were hired it would build charging stations in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles, and battery switch-out stations at rest areas about every 40 miles along the I-5 corridor. Electric vehicles, he said, have a battery life of about 100 miles.

Better Place’s stations are fully automated and require about five minutes to switch out a battery, which can be less time than it takes to fill up a gas tank, Miller said.

Jennifer Sullivan, Seattle Times


Eureka, CA looks to digest food refuse into energy

Filed under: Biofuels,Methane Digesters,Northern California — nwrenewablenews @ 1:12 am
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In the ever-challenging goal to trim down Humboldt County’s waste stream, food refuse is a heavyweight — and waste management officials are hoping it can be digested to save money, generate power and meet state mandates.The Humboldt Waste Management Authority and the cities of Arcata and Eureka are looking to develop a regional food waste digester they believe could save millions over the next two decades. Instead of sending the area’s food waste by truck to a landfill, it would go to the digester to be converted into methane and used to produce electricity.

Recycling bottles, cans, paper and other items has pared down the amount of waste sent to landfills over the years. But some cities have had trouble meeting a 2000 state demand to keep at least 50 percent of their waste streams out of landfills. Proposed legislation on waste and pollution are likely to tighten regulations in coming years.

Food waste is heavy — it’s 75 to 80 percent water — and represents about 20 percent of households’ waste, and 38 percent of businesses’ waste, according to the California Integrated Waste Management Board. That means it costs a lot to put it on a truck and ship it to a landfill 190 miles away.

”When you think about hauling water — it doesn’t make sense,” said Humboldt Waste Management Authority Program Analyst Juliette Bohn.

Despite its estimated $6 million to $7 million price tag and $618,000 yearly operating cost, a waste authority feasibility

analysis approximated that such a facility would save more than $4 million over 20 years by cutting tipping fees, producing electricity and reducing long haul trucking costs. Some 11,800 tons of organic waste could be diverted to the digester each year, the study estimated.Food waste digesters have the benefit of extracting energy from refuse and leaving a potentially compostable residue, wrote California Integrated Waste Management Board spokeswoman Charlene Graham in an e-mail. The board’s primary concern is that the technology meets environmental standards, Graham wrote. Technologies that have multiple benefits are usually worth pursuing, she wrote.

Digesters have long been used to process manure and solid waste from wastewater treatment facilities. What’s different is the process to grind up the food before it’s sent to the digester, Bohn said, and how to operate the plant given food’s quick putrefaction.

There are about 70 food digesters in Europe, but only a handful of small-scale projects in the United States.

”Because it’s a new take on an old process,” Bohn said, “there’s been a learning curve.”

A project in Humboldt County could answer remaining questions about food waste digestion and serve as a demonstration for other communities that might be interested, Bohn said.

The waste management authority is applying for grants for permitting, and for design and engineering of a facility. It’s also looking into government loans and public-private partnerships to facilitate the construction.

Ideally, Bohn said, ground could be broken in as little as two years.

John Driscoll, The Times-Standard