Northwest Renewable News

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

Oregon House passes biomass energy bill February 11, 2010

Filed under: Biomass,Legal/Courts,Oregon,Renewable Energy Projects,Utility Companies — nwrenewablenews @ 2:26 pm

Two energy-related bills moved from the Oregon House on Wednesday and went to the Senate.

House Bill 3674, which passed 60-0, allows some pre-1995 plants powered by biomass or municipal solid waste to be counted against Oregon’s goal of utilities obtaining 25 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2025. The bill also allows utilities to collect for steps toward development of hydrogen power stations.

The bill’s first part was a reworking of a 2009 bill vetoed by Gov. Ted Kulongoski, who said he is satisfied with the changes.

“The compromise legislation ensures this renewable energy resource continues to help the state reduce its carbon emissions while also maintaining Oregon’s aggressive renewable portfolio standard and improving the health of our forests,” he said in a statement.

House Bill 3675, which passed 59-1, makes technical changes to a 2009 state loan program for projects promoting energy efficiency, conservation and renewable energy.

Peter Wong, Statesman Journal –


Bend Based Geothermal company ready to drill

Filed under: Geothermal,Oregon,Renewable Energy Projects — nwrenewablenews @ 2:19 pm
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Vulcan Power Co., a Bend-based geothermal energy company, expects to start construction on its first power plant within the year in Nevada.

The company was scheduled to start new drilling near Patua Hot Springs, east of Fernley, Nev., this week, with construction of a 60-megawatt power plant projected to begin in January, said Bob Warburton, Vulcan’s acting CEO.

Founded in 1991, Vulcan holds leases on about 170,000 acres of federal and private land in five states, giving it one of the largest portfolios of geothermal properties in the nation, according to the Geothermal Energy Association, an industry group.

A recent infusion of $108 million from Denham Capital, a private investment firm, will get the drilling started, Warburton said.

While it’s headquartered in Bend, Vulcan houses engineering and other operations in Reno and Fallon, Nev.

The company employs 49 people, but will be adding about 50 to 60 more to drilling crews over the next several months, Warburton said.

The company does not expect to add staff at the headquarters, located near Colorado and Columbia avenues.

Vulcan has several other projects in development, and in October, the company received a $3.8 million grant, which it must match, from the U.S. Energy Department to research methods for finding hidden geothermal reservoirs with potential to generate commercial power.

Fueled by government policies, geothermal energy development has soared in recent years.

After reporting no increase in geothermal electricity capacity from 2001 to 2004, the U.S. reported 3.5 percent growth in both 2007 and 2008, according to the Energy Department.

Last year, it grew 6 percent, with six geothermal plants coming online.

In 2009, geothermal accounted for about 2,800 construction-related jobs and 750 new full-time jobs, according to the Geothermal Energy Association.

“We feel very good about being in this market right now,” Warburton said.

Vulcan’s plans call for a second 60-megawatt geothermal plant at Patua, with additional 60-megawatt plants at three other sites in Nevada, the location for 85 percent of the company’s holdings.

Nevada, which has 21 operating geothermal power plants, has more projects in development than any other state, according to the association.

“It has become … a focal point for geothermal energy in the Western United States,” Warburton said.

Nevada and California increased their future requirements for renewable energy in 2009. The federal government started a loan program to fund innovative technology in geothermal and opened up other renewable energy financing, and the Bureau of Land Management has been selling geothermal leasing rights on federal land for several years.

Between June 2007 and November 2009, the agency sold leases on more than 723,000 acres in six Western states, reaping more than $73 million.

The BLM is currently conducting an environmental impact statement on a 127-acre site east of Fallon, where Vulcan proposes to build up to six 30-60 megawatt geothermal power plants. The review will also cover proposals by two other companies, one seeking to build a geothermal plant and the other requesting right of way for transmission lines.

“We think there’s a lot more there,” Warburton said. “We’ll find out as we continue drilling.”

Vulcan also has made sure it has customers for the power it expects to produce. It has contracts to supply power to two major utilities in California and Nevada and is presently negotiating a third contract, Warburton said. He could not name the company involved, but he expects negotiations to conclude in six to eight weeks.

Along with its lease holdings, Vulcan has branched into other aspects of geothermal exploration. It has a proprietary interest in software, started its own drilling company and has built its own crew to cement the wells, work previously done by a company out of Bakersfield, Calif.

Vulcan also has an application before the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada to erect a nearly 350-mile transmission line, which would start east of Reno and extend to Las Vegas, although Warburton said the proposal is on hold.

Right now, he said, Vulcan wants to concentrate on producing electricity.

“We prefer to utilize our capabilities to get our power plants built,” Warburton said.

Tim Doran, Bend Bulletin


Solar project forum Feb. 21 in Yakima

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 –


Despite possible suit, canola project continues in Ore. February 10, 2010

Filed under: Biofuels,Farm/Ranch,Legal/Courts,Oregon — nwrenewablenews @ 5:02 pm
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An economic development grant approved by Josephine County officials last year has hit a snag, but Commissioner Dave Toler said that the project remains worthwhile and has benefited the community.

The $85,000 grant was approved by the board of county commissioners on Jan. 13, 2009 by a 2-1 vote, with Sandi Cassanelli dissenting. It was awarded to the Josephine County Soil and Water Conservation District (JCSWCD), which was charged with administering the grant in cooperation with the Eugene-based firm, N.W. Seed Crushers.

At the time, it was hoped that canola could be grown by area farmers, which could then be crushed, with the resulting oil used for biofuels. The growing of canola is prohibited in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, but not in the southwest portion of the state.

However, the partnership between N.W. Seed Crushers and JCSWCD now appears to be dissolving, and could end up in litigation.

Toler addressed the issue during the Wednesday, Feb. 3 meeting of the Josephine County Renewable Energy Task Force, held at the courthouse in Grants Pass.

Only half of the grant allotment has been spent, Toler said, meaning that the other half is still available.

Toler touted certain aspects of the grant allocation. He said that more than 300 acres of canola have been planted throughout the county as a result, with several growers participating.

Kit Doyle has taken the lead on the project, Toler said, and has created partnerships with many growers. Doyle also has a waiting list of other growers hoping to become involved, Toler said.

A production facility for the crop may be established somewhere in the county soon, Toler said, adding that the Applegate Valley is becoming the local “epicenter” of canola growing.

Once the canola seed is crushed, around 70 percent of the product can be used as an agricultural feed product, Toler said, and the rest can be used as a biofuel.

He said that a new state mandate requires that 3 percent of the diesel consumed in Oregon come from renewable energy sources. There is currently an inadequate supply of such renewables in the state right now, he said, so it is being imported from Montana.

“This is definitely growing,” Toler said.

The grant was intended to stimulate the growth of biofuels crops, Toler said. Unless the commissioners vote to pull the remaining funding back, he said, it can go to a local contractor to continue the project.

“I think it will have a long-term impact in terms of agriculture,” Toler said. “With $43,000, we stimulated part of our agriculture sector. That’s great bang for our buck.”

Doyle will be scheduled to make a presentation to the commissioners sometime in mid-February about the canola project, Toler said.

Scott Jorgensen, Illionois Valley News –


Federal Biomass subsidies may get altered

Filed under: Biomass,Legal/Courts,Oregon,Wood Products — nwrenewablenews @ 4:57 pm

U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio is seeking to have sawdust and wood shavings removed from a program that provides federal subsidies for biomass used to create energy.

In a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, DeFazio said the subsidy program has resulted in mill by-products being sent to biofuel and pellet plants rather than to composite wood manufacturing plants.

With the subsidies, the value of sawdust and wood shavings has doubled, making them less valuable for manufacturing, DeFazio said. At the same time, it has driven up the cost for manufacturers needing those materials for their products.

Using taxpayer dollars to subsidize the transfer of biomass material currently used for higher-value products to lower-value processes goes against congressional intent, DeFazio said, and is having a devastating impact on the U.S. wood manufacturing industries.

His letter was also signed by Rep. Bob Latta, R-Ohio, and Rep. Travis Childers, D-Miss.

“Driving up input costs for the composite and wood manufacturing industries will negatively impact their ability to compete globally and could ultimately lead to the loss of thousands of jobs,” DeFazio wrote. “During a time of 10 percent national unemployment — with many state unemployment rates even higher — we can ill afford to lose additional family-wage, U.S. manufacturing jobs.”

The three congressmen asked the Department of Agriculture to temporarily freeze subsidies provided through the Farm Service Agency until the list of eligible materials excludes wood mill waste, scraps, sawdust, chips and shavings. They also asked Vilsack to ensure that finalized rules and regulations are in place before the program continues.

The wood manufacturing and composite industries support 21,000 family wage jobs, 350,000 indirect jobs and generate $7.9 billion in annual revenues, the letter said.

John Sowell, News Review


Oregon Farmers examine biomass crops and power generation

Local farmers Monday were invited to be involved in the renewable energy field, not only as producers of a crop that could be turned into a fuel, but also as owners of the power generation facility that would burn the crop to produce electricity.

The question is “are we going to be in the driver’s seat?” Randon Wilson, an attorney who specializes in forming agriculture co-ops, said. “We have to decide where we are in charge.”

Wilson told the group, gathered at the Boulevard Grange near Ontario, as members of a proposed co-op for production of biomass crops, they could own the whole process from farm to processing to generation, or they could just do a portion of it. That would include producing the biomass crop that would be turned into fuel or producing the crop and the processing facility that would turn the crop into pellets.

It would take about five months to construct a processing plant to make the pellets, Wilson said. Construction of a power plant will take 18 to 24 months, Renewable Ag Energy Inc. President Kirk Christensen said.

The meeting was hosted by representatives of Renewable Ag Energy, Inc., an Ontario company assisting a group of local farmers, Agri Energy Producers, to bring a new crop to Malheur County.

While there is more than one crop that would produce the biomass, the co-op proponents were mainly discussing high biomass sorghum.

The high biomass crops would be planted in late May. Irrigation and fertilizer applications would be similar to corn. It would be harvested in September or October. Chopped green, it would be hauled to a conversion facility, where it would be stored, dried, cubed and shipped.

Harvesting, hauling and processing costs will be absorbed by the co-op, Christensen said.

“We’re not playing the fuel market,” Christensen said.

The farmers would be paid for growing the crop and participate in the profits from the conversion plan and profits from the generation facility, he said.

“We can’t survive on just what is produced on the farm,” Wilson said. “We need more bites. We have to take a look at energy.”

It was estimated the power plant would support 17 to 20 family-wage jobs, Christensen said.

Choices include full integration, wholly owned by the farmers, or partial integration, linked with other joint ventures or investors, Wilson said. But, it becomes difficult when you mix producers and investors, Wilson said, because eventually there are tensions between the two interests.

“We would like to get the jump on creating a state-wide co-op,” he said, adding that different groups of growers could act as separate divisions.

Such a large co-op would give the producers a lot of clout, Wilson said.

“There is a significant market,” he said.

Wilson, Christensen and others were also meeting with representatives from state agencies this week to discuss the permitting processes, land-use and other regulation issues.

Larry Meyer, Argus Observer –


Oregon House Approves Scaled-Back Green Tax Credits

Oregon lawmakers are trying again to scale back tax credits for renewable energy projects. Governor Ted Kulongoski vetoed their first attempt last year.

The Oregon House approved a new version of the bill Wednesday and this time, the governor’s on board. Chris Lehman reports.

The Business Energy Tax Credit has been around since the late 70’s but three years ago lawmakers sweetened the deal.

They wanted to entice more renewable energy companies to invest in the state.

In that sense, it worked. But it ended up giving away more than lawmakers expected.

This measure would cap the credit, and save the state an estimated $55 million in the current budget.

Republican Representative Vicki Berger says it was a case of unintended consequences.

Vicki Berger: “We are on the map in terms of this kind of technology, which is a very good thing. But we do need to be sensitive to the fact that it can run away with our budget.”

The bill required approval by a three-fifths majority since scaling back a credit is considered a tax increase.It passed 59-to-1.

Governor Kulongoski issued a statement saying he’d sign the bill if it clears the Senate.

Chris Lehman, OPB News –