Northwest Renewable News

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

ProjectDX acquired by Renewable Funding February 9, 2010

Renewable Funding, which finances clean energy projects, has purchased ProjectDX, a technology company that automates processes for governments seeking to increase participation in local sustainability programs.

The terms of the sale were not disclosed.

All Portland-based ProjectDX staff, business and technology will be absorbed by Oakland, Calif.-based Renewable Funding.

ProjectDX is an online property of Transformative Sustainable Solutions Inc., an Oregon corporation founded in 2007 by Portland-based professional and civil engineering firm David Evans Enterprises Inc.

Renewable Funding will use ProjectDX’s online services for education, awareness, and community-building in conjunction with its financing program. ProjectDX also brings with it an extensive GIS database and analytical systems help property owners make cost-effective choices about energy efficiency, water conservation and renewable energy improvements.

Project DX is already working with a number of communities across the country, including Portland, Seattle, Sonoma County, Calif., and Baltimore.

Renewable Funding, led by Cisco DeVries, grew out of a popular public funding program for renewable energy that launched in Berkeley, Calif. The Berkeley FIRST program set up a bond-financed Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) district, allowing residents to borrow from the district to finance solar installations and pay that loan back on their property tax bill over 20 years. The concept has taken off across the country and expanded to energy efficiency and water conservation. So far 16 states and hundreds of cities are starting their own programs.

The technology created by ProjectDX allows property owners to integrate renewable energy project planning with a marketplace of qualified vendors, online financing applications, and back-office support for program administrators. Renewable Funding and ProjectDX partnered on San Francisco’s Sustainable Financing energy efficiency and water conservation program, which is scheduled to launch in early 2010 and will be financed and administered through Renewable Funding.

Portland Business Journal –


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 –


Clean energy backers tout jobs at Tri-City conference

The expansion of clean energy represents the next major source of economic development and job growth in Washington, and the Tri-Cities is at the epicenter, a Washington congressman said Sunday.

Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., told attendees during the opening day of the 10th Harvesting Clean Energy Conference that more than 11,000 jobs in the state are associated with the production of clean energy — including hydro, wind, solar, nuclear, biomass and more.

The goal of the conference, which runs through Tuesday at the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick, is to promote rural economic development in the Northwest through clean energy development and production, organizers said.

And passage of energy legislation by Congress this year will help spur creation of even more jobs, said Inslee, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Agriculture and the development of the aerospace and software industries represented the first three waves of job creation in the state, with clean energy technology the newest rung, he said.

“The Tri-Cities is perfectly positioned for the next great wave of technological development,” Inslee said, citing in particular electrical generation work by Energy Northwest and solar technology by Infinia Corp. of Kennewick.

The House already has passed an energy bill. In the Senate, Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and John Kerry, D-Mass., are developing bipartisan energy legislation, Inslee said.

Approval of energy legislation is crucial, Inslee said, and not only for job growth and climate protection. America also is in a research and development race with China to create clean energy technology.

“They have made the decision they want to dominate the clean energy industrial base in the next 10 years,” Inslee said.

Conference workshops Sunday included sessions on hydropower, tapping the resources available to farms and rural communities from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the promise of biochar — charcoal prepared from biomass that is used to generate energy and improve the productivity of soil.

In agriculture and industry, electric vehicles quietly are becoming more commonplace because they don’t pollute and have lower long-term maintenance costs.

There are plug-in electric buses and hybrid school buses, short-haul trucks, tractors, forklifts used in agricultural warehouses and an electric utility vehicle — similar to an ATV — made by an Oregon-based company.

The electric utility vehicle made by Barefoot Motors of Ashland is being used by ranchers and those involved in vineyards and orchards, electric utilities and forestry companies, among others, because of its workload capacity, low energy and maintenance costs and quiet operation, said Barefoot’s Bob Acheson.

Electric vehicles, however, tend to be expensive because of the cost of lead-acid or lithium-ion batteries.

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory are working to improve battery technology, said Tim Murphy, who is involved with the lab’s advanced vehicle testing effort.

“The potential payoffs for cost-effective batteries are huge for us,” Murphy said. “I look at it as a real energy, security and quality of life issue.”

Conference workshops today will include sessions on biomass, wind power, Smart Grid technologies and generating energy from food processing waste.

Richard Wynne, director of geopolitical and policy analysis for Boeing, will give the keynote address this morning on agriculture’s potential role in developing renewable energy sources for aviation.

Kevin McCullen, TriCity Herald


Feds award $12M to plot out power lines in West December 18, 2009

Filed under: Renewable/Green Energy,Smart Grid,Wind — nwrenewablenews @ 3:29 pm
Tags: , ,

The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded $12 million to the Western Governor’s Association to plan for new electricity transmission lines.

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

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

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

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

Associated Press, KTVZ (TV) –


WSU to help implement Smart Grid December 13, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ryan Horlen, The Daily Evergreen –


New transmission line christened between Great Falls and Alberta December 1, 2009

Filed under: Montana,Smart Grid,Wind — nwrenewablenews @ 7:47 pm
Tags: , , , ,

About 130 business, industry and government leaders from Montana and Alberta turned out Monday for a ceremony marking the start of construction of a 214-mile transmission line that will connect Lethbridge, Alta., and Great Falls.

“We’ve truly made history here,” said Johan van’t Hof, president of Tonbridge Power Inc., parent company of MATL.

The Montana Alberta Tie Line, which will cost about $215 million to build, will be the first merchant transmission line in the country, he said.

Three wind farm companies have purchased space to ship energy.

A merchant transmission line means a private company builds the line, then sells space to power generators to ship electricity. In the past, rate payers of utility companies typically paid for the cost of adding new transmission, but van’t Hof said the expects the MATL model to gain in popularity as demand for more transmission capacity grows.

Thanks to projects such as MATL line and its spinoff wind farms, Gov. Brian Schweitzer said the state is situated to become one of the top green energy producers in the country. “We are living in the most important corridor on the planet,” Schweitzer told the crowd.

Van’t Hof also said MATL would be the first international transmission line connecting Montana and Alberta.

Timothy Meeks, administrator of the Western Area Power Administration, also spoke at the MATL kick-off at The History Museum.

WAPA is loaning Tonbridge $161 million in federal stimulus funds for the project. Tonbridge is the first transmission builder to receive funding but WAPA is talking with six other potential partners in planning transmission projects in the West, Meeks said.

Bob Williams of Montana Alberta Tie Ltd., a Tonbridge subsidiary, said construction likely will begin in about a month with soil testing, with construction expected to take about 18 months. The project, which Tonbridge said will create 150 jobs in southern Alberta and northern Montana, involves erecting about 1,600 125-foot-tall poles that will be sunk 16 feet into the ground. Those poles will hold a 230-kilovolt power line capable of transporting 300 megawatts of power either north or south, which is enough to power about 35,000 homes.

Rocky Mountain Contractors Inc. of Helena, a subsidiary of North Dakota-based MDUC Resources, has been chosen the general contractor.

Karl Puckett, Great Falls Tribune –


Pullman will be ‘smart grid’ model city November 29, 2009

Avista will lead a smart grid demonstration project that will create the first “smart community” in the Pacific Northwest. Matching funds for the $38 million project are part of a U.S. Department of Energy grant for a larger $178 million regional project which is administered by Battelle.

According to an Avista news release, the company will team up with several regional entities for the Pullman project. Participants include the City of Pullman, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, Washington State University, Itron, Hewlett Packard and Spirae. Avista’s portion of the matching funds will be $12.9 million.

According to Avista, the project involves automation of many parts of the electric distribution system using advanced metering, enhanced utility communication and other elements of smart grid technologies. Once the work is completed, customers in the City of Pullman and nearby Albion are expected to experience greater reliability, shorter outage times and access to their own energy use information, allowing them to better manage energy expenses.

“This project will demonstrate the viability of modernizing our electric system with proven technology, and it will prepare us for things to come in the future,” said Scott Morris, Avista chairman, president and CEO.

“I have to especially thank Senator Maria Cantwell for her outstanding leadership in making smart grid a national priority,” Morris added. “I would also like to express my appreciation to the rest of our congressional delegation and to Governor Chris Gregoire for their support on this initiative.”

The project is expected to help move the region and the nation closer to establishing a more efficient and effective electricity infrastructure that is intended to help contain costs, reduce emissions, incorporate more wind power and other types of renewable energy, increase power grid reliability and provide greater flexibility for consumers.

A group of Washington State University researchers will be working with Avista on the project.

As part of the project, WSU along with Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories are set to serve as ‘micro-grids,’ locally-based, electricity producing power grids, says Anjan Bose, Regents Professor in the WSU School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS). Serving as a micro-grid, WSU will communicate with Avista to improve electric power efficiency throughout the community.

WSU has its own generating plant, which runs on natural gas and diesel fuel. The generating plant is used primarily to produce steam to heat buildings on campus, but it also includes back-up generators which produce electricity. The campus back-up generators are used to provide power to critical facilities and systems in the event a utility power outage occurs. As part of the smart grid project, WSU will be communicating with Avista for the first time to optimize power generation throughout the community, so that the WSU power-producing facilities might be called upon to provide electricity if the Avista power grid should become unstable or over-loaded.

WSU will also identify loads which could be temporarily shed in response to Avista signals to assist with stabilizing the power grid. The EECS power engineering researchers and students will be involved in research, development, design, testing, and data analysis of the ‘micro-grid’ system.

“The micro-grid provides a local way of controlling electricity production and distribution and should make the whole system more responsive to people’s needs,’’ says Bose. “This is a good demonstration project of one of the ways that we can make the grid smarter.’’

“This Smart Grid project allows WSU to take a important role in addressing our nation’s most critical challenges in energy and the environment,’’ says Candis Claiborn, dean of the College of Engineering and Architecture. “I look forward to a future in which these smart grid innovations being studied here at WSU will lead to cleaner and more efficient energy use for all of us.’’

In addition to Bose, other EECS researchers on the project include Mani Venkatasubramanian, Dave Bakken, and Carl Hauser. Terry Ryan, director of WSU’s energy systems operations, has also taken a leading role on the project. In addition to WSU and Avista, other team members on the Pullman project include Schweitzer Engineering, Itron, Hewlett Packard, and Spirae.

Work is expected to begin by the end of 2009 and should be completed in 2014.