Northwest Renewable News

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

‘Cow Power To Horsepower’ Researched In Bellingham February 16, 2010

Filed under: Farm/Ranch,Methane Digesters,Washington — nwrenewablenews @ 4:35 pm

When you think of what federal economic stimulus money has paid for, the first things that come to mind might be highway paving, energy retrofits or high–speed trains. Now here’s one of the most unconventional stimulus projects we’ve heard of. An institute at Western Washington University is getting half a million dollars to examine how to convert cow poop into horsepower.

Five years ago, dairy farmer Darryl Vander Haak flipped the switch on the first poop–to–power generator in Washington State. Officially, the facility near Lynden, Washington is known as a methane digester. Manure from around a 1000 cows goes in one end. Then controlled decomposition yields methane gas. It’s burned like natural gas in an electric generator.

The rub is, electricity sales haven’t been very profitable, or profitable at all says dairyman Vander Haak.

Vander Haak: “We’re looking for alternative ways. The Northwest has too much hydropower to compete with. It would be easier to compete with the gas companies, I guess.”

That’s why Vander Haak was open minded when the director of the Vehicle Research Institute at Western Washington University came calling from down the road in Bellingham. Eric Leonhardt says he’s long had his eye on the dairy herd as a source of transportation fuel.

Leonhardt: “The problem is when the gas comes off the digester, it has not only methane in it — 60 percent — it also has carbon dioxide — forty percent, roughly. And it has a trace of hydrogen sulfide.”

Leonhardt says the challenge is to remove those engine–wrecking impurities cost–effectively. Other than that, powering vehicles with natural gas is not new. Generating the fuel from renewable sources has been done before too, for example at landfills. The U.S. Department of Energy gave the $500,000 grant to improve the fuel refining process and then demonstrate whether biogas could be cost–competitive. At lot depends on the price of fossil fuels.

Leonhardt: “At $6 a gallon, the payoff period isn’t very long.”

Banse: “So $6 a gallon for petroleum fuel?”

Leonhardt: “Yes. If you start at $3 a gallon, it’s a push. It is right on the edge of being possible.”

This spring, the Vehicle Research Institute plans to retrofit a donated airporter shuttle bus. It will take a few months of road testing to confirm Leonhardt’s cost estimates. The researcher has already calculated that the cows from just two large dairies could fuel all the public buses in his home of Whatcom County.

I’m Tom Banse in Bellingham, Washington.

Tom Banse, KUOW –


Plan for Shelton, WA biomass plant is great news for region February 15, 2010

Filed under: Biomass,Renewable Energy Projects,Washington,Wood Products — nwrenewablenews @ 4:28 pm

Plans are under way to build a $250 million biomass plant near the Shelton Airport with an objective of turning 600,000 tons of wood debris into enough electricity to power 40,000 homes.

A joint venture of Duke Energy and a global energy firm called Areva has a long, long way to go to get the plant off the ground, but it’s exciting to think about the potential to turn mounds of leftover logging debris — stumps and tree limbs — into electrical energy.

We’re a little surprised that company officials rolled out the project without firm contracts with timber companies for the woody debris or contracts with electrical companies to purchase the power generated from the biomass plant. But make no mistake, we’re excited at the possibility of a new source of alternative energy in South Sound.

Today, after a logging company moves through a stand of trees, the remaining woody debris is generally pushed into huge piles that are burned. So-called slash burns pollute the air and pose a serious health risk for individuals suffering from breathing problems. Slash burns are a terrible waste of natural resources. There’s increased pressure from regulatory agencies to reduce slash burning to protect air quality.

State lawmakers and Peter Goldmark, commissioner of public lands, recognized that fact, and are proceeding with a handful of pilot projects to turn logging debris into energy. The state is proceeding with those test projects, but the joint venture involved in the Shelton project is proceeding on its own and is not part of the Department of Natural Resources pilot project.

At the launch announcement in Olympia recently, officials said they hope to break ground by late this year on the power plant on Port of Shelton property near the airport.

The first order of business is to lock up contracts with suppliers of woody debris. “We’re contacting all the major landowners within 50 miles of the plant site,” said Reed Wills, president of the energy startup firm, Adage LLC.

One of the major timber companies in the Shelton area — Green Diamond Resource Co. — is in talks with Adage about supplying feedstock for the plant. “We’re very interested in a biomass plant in our community,” said Patti Case, public affairs manager for Green Diamond, which traces its linage to Simpson Timber Co., founded in 1890 by Solomon Simpson in the tiny town of Matlock.

Adage officials said the power plant would be built to produce 55 megawatts of electricity.

After suppliers are lined up, the next step is to garner environmental and land use approval, then enter into contracts with electrical suppliers willing to purchase the alternative power at competitive prices.

On the environmental front, Adage officials have had preliminary talks with officials at the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency that regulates emissions.

“We’ve had discussions with the company, but they haven’t applied yet for a permit,” said Fran McNair, executive director of the clean air agency. She said the equipment the company plans to use to control emissions appears to meet the agency’s emissions requirements because it is the best available technology.

Community and political leaders were quick to praise the woodwaste-to-energy plan because it’s expected to generate 700 direct and indirect jobs during the two-and-a-half year construction.

The daily operation would require about 100 employees collecting and transporting the woody debris with another couple dozen workers operating the plant.

“There’s a great labor force here — ready, willing and able to work,” said state Rep. Fred Finn, a Democrat whose district includes Mason County.

“This is part of the next chapter in the forest products industry,” said Mason County Commissioner Lynda Ring Erickson.

We would hope the energy company would have little trouble lining up contracts with public utility districts or other energy suppliers who need to add to their inventory of alternative energy sources.

Initiative 937, which was adopted by Washington voters in the 2006 general election, requires PUDs and electrical companies with more than 25,000 customers to focus on conservation and produce certain percentages of alternative energy by specific target dates. The Shelton plant will fill that requirement.

The plan to turn renewable natural resources into energy — energy that reduces both our dependence on foreign oil and reduces greenhouse gas emissions — is a real plus and should be embraced by the entire South Sound.

The Olympian –


Solar project forum Feb. 21 in Yakima February 11, 2010

Filed under: Solar,Utility Companies,Washington — nwrenewablenews @ 2:12 pm

The public is invited to a presentation on forming a community solar project on Feb. 21 at Wesley United Methodist Church.

The featured speaker is Gary Nystedt, who created a successful community solar program for Ellensburg. He will share Ellensburg’s experience in setting up the nation’s first community solar project in 2006 and what steps Yakima would need to take to set up a similar project.

Ellensburg’s project has received attention from around the world. Community members invested in solar panels that were installed in a park near town. Investors get a return on their investment in clean energy through a credit on their electric bill.

Wesley United Methodist is at 14 N. 48th Ave. in Yakima. The presentation begins at 10:15 a.m.

Yakima Herald Republic –


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 –


Wind farm complex in works 10 miles outside Othello, Wash.

Adams County’s first wind farm could give Othello a job boost.

Portland-based Horizon Wind Energy is working to build a $120 million wind complex about 10 miles southwest of Othello.

The Saddle Mountain Wind Farm’s 32 turbines would produce about 57 megawatts — enough to power about 17,100 homes annually, said Elon Hasson, project manager for Horizon Wind Energy.

The company recently received a conditional use permit from Adams County to build the project, but construction won’t start until it firms up a buyer for the power.

Loren Wiltse, Adams County building and planning director, said the project still needs to get building and construction permits, but the overall project has been approved.

The start of construction is at least a year out, Hasson said, but once its starts the work will take six to eight months and involve about 120 employees.

Othello City Administrator Ehman Sheldon said the construction will bring workers to Othello’s restaurants, gas stations and motels. “It will be a big boon to our economy here,” he said.

Once the wind farm is done, Horizon will need six to eight full-time employees to operate it, Hasson said.

State regional labor economist T. Baba Moussa said he doesn’t expect those jobs to have a large impact on the county as a whole. Adams County has about 5,380 non-farm jobs.

But Mike Bailey, Othello’s finance officer, said, “For us, everything helps.”

Bailey said Horizon Wind Energy’s presentation this week to the Othello City Council made him comfortable with the project.

He said it seems well engineered and the company appears to be doing what it can to minimize environmental impacts.

Horizon Wind Energy also built the Wild Horse Wind Farm in Ellensburg, which is now owned by Puget Sound Energy. And the company is working on a wind farm in Kittitas County and has three in Oregon.

Hasson said the Othello wind farm site, which is smaller than its other projects, was chosen to minimize harm to wildlife and the community.

The company worked with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife on a conservation plan for the sandhill cranes, he said.

Thousands of the birds use the area around Othello as a stopover while migrating from California to Alaska. The farm fields are rich in nutrients and attract the cranes, which hang around for a month or more.

The wind farm plan includes teaching people about wind turbines, siting the farm where it will least affect the cranes and collecting data on the birds during and after construction.

Sheldon said city officials have been told the wind farm will be visible from the city on a clear day.

Kristi Pihl, TriCity Herald –


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 –