Conversations on Conservation|
1) Restructured Electric Industry Still Needs Regulatory Oversight, Including Conservation, Montana's Bob Anderson Believes
2) Two Innovative Green Buildings in Portland Win 2000 BEST Awards for Energy Efficiency
3) Washington, Oregon Rank Among Top States in Utility Energy Efficiency Programs, ACEEE Study Finds
4) Idaho Power Sees Potential Electric Supply Shortfall by 2004; Conservation May Have Opportunities through RFP
5) Montana Power, Stakeholders Report Positive First Year for Public-Purposes Funding
6) Customer Interest in Green Power Spurs New Wind-Energy Development
7) Tacoma Power Launches Retail Green Power Program
8) Three Solar Projects Awarded Funding from Bonneville Environmental Foundation
9) New 2-KW Solar PV System Debuts in Not-So-Sunny Seattle
10) BRIEFS; Betterbricks.com
As an energy regulator in a state with a restructured electric industry, commissioner Bob Anderson still finds plenty to keep himself occupied--including a guiding role for energy conservation in Montana.
"I would characterize the new world as competitive generation and supply and regulated delivery," said Anderson, a third-term member of the Montana Public Service Commission. "Regulators still have a lot to do that has an impact on conservation."
As one example, Anderson cited his commission's approval of the allocation of Montana Power's public-purposes funding. Montana in 1997 became the first Northwest state to undertake electric restructuring, creating phased-in open retail access for investor-owned utility customers and earmarking funds from a universal systems benefits charge (equal to 2.4 percent of annual utility revenues) for energy conservation, renewable energy and low-income initiatives.
The intersection of conservation and
Photo courtesy of Montana
Public Service Commission
Integrated resource planning has lost some luster, but, Anderson said, "I think IRP is being declared dead prematurely. It still has an ongoing role in distribution and transmission regulation. You can meet customer needs for transmission and distribution . . . with DSM. People are sort of preoccupied with stranded costs and getting markets right, but I think [DSM's role in T & D] will come as this process matures."
Encouragement of research and development, as through utility participation in the Electric Power Research Institute, is yet another instance of regulatory nurturing with demand-side implications.
But perhaps the most important regulatory task to foster conservation, Anderson believes, is assuring that customers get proper price signals through such mechanisms as time-of-day and interruptible pricing. "If customers get the right price signs in the distribution system, they can avoid expenses on their bills," he noted.
In the late 1970s, when Anderson headed Montana's state energy agency, the state took a leadership role in responding to energy crises, he recalled. "All kinds of programs were put in place, including conservation. Montana had a big tax on coal and part of the proceeds from the coal tax went to conservation development. Now that people don't care so much about Arab oil embargoes, a lot of that stuff has dissipated." If current gasoline prices continue to rise, Anderson predicted, people may take more notice of energy.
Asked about the current state of Montana energy conservation, Anderson described it as "kind of moribund. There hasn't been much action in building codes for quite a while. If prices go up, that will probably arise again. In terms of private-sector infrastructure, there are ESCOS [energy services companies], local businesses that do windows and insulation and storm doors . . . They seem to be surviving."
As for the state's dominant utility, Montana Power, "They're continuing to do roughly the same things as before" in conservation, Anderson said. The state's USBC funding level was pegged to 1995, he noted, when utility conservation spending was at a peak. Overall, he said, "Montana Power has been a pretty good conservation citizen." Although the IOU plans to sell off its energy businesses, including its electric distribution and transmission systems, "The new buyer will have to step into the company's shoes in all respects," he said. That includes USBC programs legislatively required through mid-2003.
Anderson is less enamored of the efforts of some cooperative utilities, which also are required to participate in USBC. "They're not regulated by us, but my understanding of what they've done is claim credit for their debt service payment to Bonneville [Power Administration] as a conservation expense," he said. At least one industrial customer, Columbia Falls Aluminum, reportedly has made a similar assertion. Anderson has this advice for other states: "Don't let utilities or customers self-direct or self-determine the collection and the expense of these things. It's like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse."
Northwest Culture of Efficiency
Anderson finds it ironic that the Northwest, with its low electric prices, has exhibited "so much success and leadership" in energy conservation. "I think it's cultural. The political culture of the Northwest is oriented toward the environment and efficiency . . . It seems like the right thing to do."
The landmark 1980 Pacific Northwest Electric Power Planning and Conservation Act fostered "a lot of enthusiasm for conservation," Anderson said. "The preference for resources in the Act puts conservation and renewables at the top. That's where I think they belong." Market failures limit their development compared to "traditional hardware kinds of [energy] supplies."
Over time, he said, "People and institutions have evolved as we've learned things. We've developed new institutions, like the [Northwest] Energy Efficiency Alliance."
Anderson is a fan of market transformation, praising it as an "excellent approach" to conservation that's cost-effective and gets customers more involved. "The challenge will be maintaining the commitment by the participants at the funding level." Although the Alliance recently announced a five-year renewal by regional utilities, funding beyond that remains "questionable," according to Anderson. "There are incentives to be a free rider. The best solution, I think, is a national wires charge as part of federal restructuring legislation."
The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC)--of which Anderson chairs the Energy Resources and Environment Committee--favors such a system benefits charge with state determination of programs. "I have confidence here in the Northwest we would get it pretty much right," he said.
Anderson foresees a "continuing commitment to conservation" in the region because of the supportive political culture. "I guess the challenge is how to do it with changes in technology and economy and regulation. There are always new mechanisms needed to accomplish things."
Conservation remains "a valuable resource for customers and for the environment," Anderson concluded. Yet, "It's going to be a challenge continuously, probably forever, to make it work."--Mark Ohrenschall
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Two Portland buildings with innovative, extensive and cost-conscious green features have received honors in the 2000 BEST Business Awards.
The University of Portland's new Swindells Hall and the Wieden + Kennedy headquarters building earned energy efficiency awards April 21 in the seventh annual Portland-area awards program, which also recognized winners in water conservation, waste reduction and transportation alternatives.
Swindells Hall features an indirect evaporative cooling system--a novelty in the Pacific Northwest--along with numerous recycled-content materials. It exceeds Oregon's commercial energy code efficiency requirements by 50 percent, and the simple payback period for the energy-efficient mechanical and electrical strategies is slightly more than four years.
The extensively renovated Wieden + Kennedy building incorporates another unusual HVAC feature: underfloor ventilation. It also makes considerable use of recycled wood, daylighting and other resource-efficient elements--all of which fit within the overall construction budget.
"We got two nice green buildings winning awards," said Curt Nichols of the city of Portland Energy Office, which issued the BEST Awards along with the Association for Portland Progress, the Business Journal of Portland, the Environmental Federation of Oregon and the U.S. Green Building Council.
The two award-winners, he noted, reflect significant changes in building practices since BEST began issuing awards in 1993. "Those kinds of HVAC technologies weren't even talked about eight years ago. If they were, it was in a lab somewhere, and not in a building." In the early years of the awards program, he recalled, "An aggressive lighting retrofit, maybe with some controls added, could have won a BEST award. Now you look at those as a reviewer and say, 'Forget it. It's got to be better than that to win.'"
University of Portland's Swindells Hall
The green features of the University of Portland's new 41,000-square-foot laboratory building are rooted in the school's desire to do more than simply teach environmental values.
One of the UP regents, John Emrick,
Photo courtesy of Betterbricks.com
"We moved to a [green building] commitment at the very beginning of the project" three years ago, he continued. "We wanted to save more energy than anyone had on a building of this sort. We wanted this to be the best."
Architect Daniel Danielson of Soderstrom Architects accepted this mandate with a gulp. "That kind of scared the daylights out of us," he recalled.
Science buildings pose a "tremendous challenge" for energy efficiency, according to Kolmes, because of the need for complete air replacement. A number of different mechanical strategies were explored (with PGE funding for engineering) and the project team settled on four: indirect evaporative cooling, control valves on fume hoods, high-efficiency exhaust fans on the roof, and high-efficiency boilers for heating.
An Arizona native, Danielson knew about evaporative cooling, which essentially uses moisture to cool spaces. In Oregon, however, adding humidity like this is problematic. So Swindells Hall--where cooling the air is a big concern, given all the people and science equipment inside--applies a variation on this age-old technique.
"We have an indirect evaporative cooler that actually cools a liquid that goes into a heat exchanger and then cools the air going into the building," explained UP's Kolmes. This precooling reduces air conditioning loads, which saves energy and also allows compressors to last longer. The Swindells Hall cooling process
Photo courtesy of Betterbricks.com
Swindells Hall also features boilers that vent at 120 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to the 300 degree norm. "We're losing very little heat up the chimney," said Kolmes. The lab building also has "intelligent fume hoods that modify their flow rates as they're opened and closed," he noted, along with an air-reclamation system that collects air from the fume hoods and runs it through a heat-exchanger.
The lighting includes occupancy sensors, some T-5 fluorescent lights and considerable indirect lighting, according to Danielson. A lighting sweep system hasn't been effective, he acknowledged, because science faculty members work all kinds of odd hours. "That's how you learn. It's too bad. That one didn't pay off. All the others did."
The total premium for the efficient mechanical and electrical strategies came to $236,000. With annual energy savings of $52,000, the return on investment will be completed in less than five years. "That's pretty damned good, and then it keeps paying," Danielson noted. The whole building cost about $8.8 million--under budget, he said, even with the green features.
Meanwhile, the outside of Swindells Hall is marked by native landscaping "that is resistant to pests and diseases and requires no supplemental irrigation," according to the BEST award.
As for building materials, Danielson gathered considerable information and developed a scoring system to help in "quantifying the decision process." Research led to the inclusion of fly ash as a 10-percent-by-weight additive in the concrete foundation. This entombs "a bad byproduct of the smelting process of iron ore," he said. Anecdotal evidence, meanwhile, suggests fly ash strengthens concrete by increasing the curing time.
Other materials incorporated into Swindells Hall include 10-percent recycled-content brick; 25-percent recycled-content aluminum in doors and window frames; sustainably harvested wood veneers on lab benches and chairs; paints with no volatile organic compounds (VOC); bathroom tiles made from 75-percent recycled-content windshields; plasterboard comprised of recycled cellulose; and 300,000 pounds of recycled steel.
"Writing bids for something like this, you have to make sure the contractors understand what you're talking about," said Kolmes. "We're very pleased with how it came out." It also helped educate suppliers on recycled-content materials, he noted, which will streamline the process for future green-building projects.
"I think that sustainable architecture is something that's here to stay," Kolmes said. "We're not going to be, in the end, the most sustainable science building in the future. We're hopefully going to inspire people to do even better."
Architect Danielson emphasized the importance of enforcing materials specifications during construction. "A lot of times owners are trying to find ways to cut costs without cutting quality. Contractors are a good resource for that. If they don't understand the [green building] message, they might inadvertently subterfuge the mission." He suggested that green building architects must "be diligent throughout the construction process. Make sure the intent of your decisions are followed."
Green design and building are not yet common practice, he believes, but wider acceptance can be accomplished with common diligence, Danielson believes. Swindells Hall's mechanical and electrical features are economically compelling, while the materials used are "readily available. What architects do is spend time researching and specifying. Finding these materials is not out of the norm of what we're doing. Take the time, be thoughtful . . . be environmentally responsible by being intelligent with your decisions," he counseled.
Any other green building advice? "Hire me," he laughed.
Wieden + Kennedy Headquarters
The new Wieden + Kennedy headquarters in Portland's Pearl District dates to the early 1900s. Over the years the building has served as a warehouse for assorted purposes (including dry goods and cold storage), according to Dennis Wilde of Gerding/Edlen Development Co. Wilde's firm spearheaded the building's renovation into 185,000 square feet of office and retail space, a project begun in 1997 that incorporates historic preservation as well as sustainable design.
The most innovative energy-related feature, according to the BEST award, is likely the underfloor ventilation: "This system results in reduced fan energy, lower chiller load, more individual work space temperature controls, and improved air quality." This is one of only a handful of such applications in the Northwest, said the Energy Office's Nichols.
Architectural and structural factors came into play for this system, according to Wilde. "It was an old building and the floors weren't level. A raised floor became a reasonable way to deal with the out-of-plumb floors," he said. The architect also wanted to avoid exposed duct work. This underfloor ventilation arrangement--which Wilde called "probably the most consciously thought-out green building strategy"--saves about 20 percent in energy compared with a standard ducted variable-air-volume system.
The building also has variable-frequency drives in all its fans and pumps, operable windows and considerable daylighting and indirect lighting: the system uses only 84 percent of lighting power density allowed by the state's energy code, according to the BEST award.
More than 100,000 board feet of lumber was either reused in the building or ended up in other places, according to the BEST award. "The reuse of the timbers definitely was architecturally driven," said Wilde. A large atrium space has bleacher seating constructed entirely from the warehouse wood. And, he added, "As much as 30 percent of the salvaged timbers went back into the building to replace timbers with significant dry rot."
All this, and the building still came in at the projected cost. "We didn't have a budget amount set aside to cover sustainable items," most of which evolved during design, said Wilde. "It was dealt with within the overall construction budget." Electric savings are projected at $21,000 annually, in addition to a 35-percent Oregon Business Energy Tax Credit to help offset the costs of energy-saving elements.
Green strategies such as daylighting do take more time to design, Wilde noted--perhaps 5 percent. "I think most of the difficulty with incorporating sustainable features in buildings are encountered in the design phase. If you're careful, it doesn't have to add cost to the project."--Mark Ohrenschall
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Washington and Oregon rank among the very top states nationwide in utility energy efficiency programs, at least based on historical performance, according to a new report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.
Washington tops the nation and Oregon finishes sixth in ACEEE's "State Scorecard on Utility Energy Efficiency Programs," which judges states based on four spending and energy-saving parameters from 1993 to 1998. Montana came in 12th and Idaho finished 24th.
|"State Scorecard on Utility Energy Efficiency Programs"|
|State (Ranking)||Spending as percent of revenues||Savings as percent of sales|
'93 to '98
'93 to '98
Source: American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy
ACEEE lauded the Northwest as "another example of a strong commitment to energy efficiency in a period of industry restructuring," specifically citing the formation and successes of the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance.
The lofty rankings for Northwest states came despite severe cutbacks in recent years in utility conservation programs. In Washington, a 1998 state study found a 72-percent reduction in such spending since 1993. "Washington was number one due to its very high energy savings, despite the substantial decline in energy efficiency expenditures as a percentage of revenues from 1993 to 1998," the ACEEE study noted.
ACEEE "gave significant weight to the amount of savings that were achieved in 1998," which reflect a "result of programs over the preceeding decade," study co-author Steven Nadel told Con.WEB. "That was a key factor in Washington, in particular. To a significant extent they're resting on their laurels. What they did in 1998 alone would not have made the top 10."
Liz Klumpp of the Energy Policy Group in the Washington Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development also took a historical perspective. "Primarily it reflects a great legacy the Northwest has in making investments in energy efficiency, and a lot of that is due to Bonneville Power [Administration], but not solely by any means. Puget Sound Energy alone is a huge player in 1993." She also noted ACEEE gave the most weight to energy efficiency spending as a percentage of revenues, which benefited the Northwest because of its lower electric rates and thus revenues. "It's great that we got ranked number one," she said, but, "It doesn't necessarily reflect what is currently happening in our industry. We have a fantastic legacy behind us."
After Washington, the top-ranked states were, in order: New Jersey, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, Iowa, Wisconsin, Hawaii and Vermont. At the bottom, in descending order from the last: West Virginia, Alabama, Nevada, Tennessee, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Nebraska and Kansas. California finished 17th, which the study said "is in large part due to the fact that California utilities underspent their energy efficiency budgets in 1998."
Recognize Leaders, Encourage Laggards
Nadel, Toru Kubo and Howard Geller undertook the study as a gauge of utility programs in the age of electric industry restructuring. They reported that national utility spending on energy efficiency and demand-side management programs plunged from a high of $2.74 billion in 1993 to $1.57 billion in 1998, as utilities prepared for open electric markets by reducing discretionary spending while regulators de-emphasized integrated resource planning.
"Given the many changes taking place regarding utility energy efficiency programs, and given the fact that many states are just now considering whether and how to restructure their utility industries, we thought it would be useful to compare and rank utility energy-efficiency efforts by state, in order to recognize the leaders, and encourage the laggards to improve their programs," they wrote.
Data for the study came primarily from the federal Energy Information Administration's "U.S. Electric Utility Demand-Side Management" reports. It covers both investor-owned and publicly owned utilities, and BPA in the Northwest. ACEEE used only the energy efficiency components of programs (which excludes load management initiatives).
The authors looked at four metrics: 1998 utility energy efficiency spending as a percentage of revenues (worth 100 points maximum), and electricity savings as a percentage of electricity sales (50 points maximum), and the same two categories as changed between 1993 and 1998 (25 points maximum apiece). "After calculating each of these parameters for all states and the District of Columbia, we assigned 'points' to each state based on their relative rating on each parameter," the report said. "We then weighted each parameter to allow calculation of a total score for each state."
In Washington, utility energy efficiency spending came in at 7.09 percent of revenues in 1993--by far the highest total in the country, more than twice the next-highest state, neighboring Idaho, which recorded 2.78 percent. But by 1998 Washington had dropped to 1.71 percent--still higher than all but one other state, Massachusetts. The Evergreen State recorded energy savings as 6.82 percent of total electric sales in 1993, again leading the nation. And that percentage increased to 9.24 percent in 1998.
Oregon showed a similar pattern. Efficiency program spending came in at 2.51 percent of revenues in 1993, but dropped to 0.96 in 1998. Savings as a percentage of sales increased substantially in the same period, from 2.33 percent in 1993 to 5.74 percent in 1998.
Idaho and Montana followed suit. In Idaho, 1993 efficiency spending as a percentage of revenues was 2.78, but it fell to 0.28 percent in 1998. Savings as a percentage of sales rose from 1.55 percent in 1993 to 2.62 in 1998. For Montana, the efficiency spending/revenue percentage dropped from 1.61 percent in 1993 to 0.72 in 1998, while electric savings/sales rose from 1.25 percent in 1993 to 2.77 percent in 1998.
This trend of declining spending/revenues with increasing savings/sales held true as a nationwide average. National spending/revenue average went from 0.83 percent in 1993 to 0.42 percent in 1998, while the savings/sales average increased slightly in the same period, from 1.60 percent to 1.74 percent.
Nadel said he and his colleagues found "enormous variations" among states in their utility energy efficiency programs.
"The top states tended to be concentrated geographically in the Northeast, Upper Midwest, and West Coast," the study said. "On the other hand, large sections of the Southeast, Midwest, South-Central, and Southwest regions demonstrated minimal commitment to utility efficiency programs in recent years." Nadel believes these disparities somewhat correlate to "interest in environmental-type issues" and relative electric rates (although in the Northwest, he noted, "You guys are a major exception to that.").
The lower-ranked states "are maintaining energy waste and higher energy bills for their consumers and businesses," according to the study. "Second, emissions from power plants are higher than they need be, contributing towards environmental and health problems. Third, they may be compromising electric reliability. Utility energy efficiency programs often cut peak demand, thereby postponing costly investments in new power plants, as well as transmission and distribution system upgrades, and improving power system reliability."
The study urged states to adopt public benefits funding for energy efficiency--20 have done so already in some form--and advocated a federal "public benefits trust fund" derived from an electricity sales surcharge to "provide matching funds to states for eligible public benefits expenditures . . . This policy would encourage many states to expand their energy efficiency programs, without penalizing those states already making a major commitment. Decisions about program design and administration would be left up to state policymakers."
Public-benefits funding created for Montana and Oregon bode well for those states, according to Nadel. "I would anticipate Oregon and Montana, as a result of restructuring, will tend to increase in time. Idaho is not as clear a picture. They probably could do a little bit more, not just participation in the Northwest [Energy Efficiency] Alliance."
ACEEE plans to update the study annually as long as EIA data is available, he said.--Mark Ohrenschall
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Idaho Power may not be able to meet customer demand for electricity by mid-2004, according to the investor-owned utility's draft 2000 integrated resource plan. The draft IRP predicts another 250 megawatts will be needed by 2004 for demand periods in both summer and winter. The real difficulty, the plan indicates, is a lack of transmission capacity to deliver additional power--which could be purchased on the market--to Idaho Power's service area.
Potential solutions to the problem include looking for power from states to the southeast, beefing up transmission to the Northwest, or building generation closer to home. As for conservation, a utility spokesman said past efficiencies have reduced the forecast demand for power, while future savings through its involvement in the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance can't yet be counted. The utility, however, will ask for outside suggestions through a request for proposals, providing an opportunity for conservation. One consultant already has some demand-side ideas.
Trouble on Horizon
Idaho Power's newly released draft IRP sees trouble on the horizon, in the form of an additional 250 MW needed to cover peak demand periods in July and August and November and December of 2004.
The company's last IRP, developed three years ago, indicated Idaho Power would rely on power purchases to meet seasonal deficiencies "into the future," said director of revenue requirement Greg Said. "That's still a good strategy, but as surpluses are on the decline and deficiencies without these surpluses grow, there's a cap on what we can satisfy with purchases from the Northwest"--Idaho Power's traditional market for power deals. At the same time, congestion is increasing on the region's transmission system--especially on lines running west to east--reducing the utility's ability to bring in needed power.
The problems result from two factors: increasing loads in Idaho Power's service territory, and decreasing amounts of hydropower available to meet demand. Idaho Power has always been a summer-peaking utility, Said noted; customer growth exacerbates that problem. At the same time, the utility faces potential winter shortages because of regulations on the hydro system for fish. More water is needed in the spring for fish flush, so less water is available in November and December to meet higher demands in those months.
Potential solutions to the peaking problem include looking for power sources to the southeast, in Utah and/or Montana; planning ahead for resource additions; or more transmission paths to the Northwest. "The southeast is an unproven market for us," Said indicated.
The draft IRP does not include any Utah/Montana purchases at this point, he added--or any definite plans to beef up transmission or build new generation. The utility plans to issue a request for proposals this summer on how to satisfy the projected deficiencies.
Not Much DSM in Plan
The plan also doesn't say much on distributed energy resources or demand-side management, according to Said--although Idaho Power load forecasts include the impact of past conservation efforts and savings expected to continue into the future. Effects of regional efforts the utility supports through the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance are not included, he said, since those programs are in progress.
Idaho Power used to pursue DSM through individual programs whose costs were tracked under a deferred accounting method for later inclusion in rates. "That process has fallen into disfavor with customers and the [Idaho Public Utilities] Commission," Said indicated. In addition, some of those programs had reached the potential for saturation, and the company started moving to the regional approach embodied in the Alliance.
Commissioner Marsha Smith responded that DSM has not fallen out of favor with the IPUC, but the commission prefers the Alliance's regional approach. She also pointed out Idaho Power still funds low-income weatherization.
Lots of Potential Efficiencies
Others believe there are a lot of potential energy efficiencies to be achieved in Idaho Power's service area. The primary reason the utility's summer demands are increasing, according to David Baylon of the Seattle-based consulting firm Ecotope, is the saturation of air conditioning in new residential construction in the Boise area. "There has been absolutely no effort to make these air conditioners efficient," Baylon said. Although electricity is no longer the fuel of choice for space heating, air conditioning dominates the residential market--and most of that is peak load, he noted.
"At least as egregious a problem is that Boise has the lowest saturation of low-E [window] coatings in the region," Baylon added. Idaho builders say it's too expensive to add such coatings to standard window installations, but Baylon said those are standard features in Oregon, Washington and Montana--all states with less demand for air-conditioning.
These shortcomings, however, aren't necessarily the fault of the utility. "I do recognize that in terms of having energy-efficient building legislation, our state is not as aggressive as other states," IPUC's Smith said.
Idaho Power could take a number of approaches to solve its peaking problems that don't involve building new transmission or generation, Baylon suggested.
The integrated resource plan is still a draft at this point, Said pointed out. --Jude Noland
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Montana Power's first year of public-purposes funding has received generally favorable reviews.
Utility officials and other stakeholders report the Universal Systems Benefits Charge (USBC) program functioned well in 1999, generating nearly $7.8 million from ratepayers for a broad mix of energy conservation, renewable energy and low-income energy initiatives in the investor-owned utility's service territory. The USBC came out of the 1997 legislation restructuring Montana's electric industry, and has been collected from all electric utility customers since January 1999. It is the first state public-purposes funding established in the Northwest.
"For the first year out, we're really pleased with the successes of the program [and] the participation of the advisory committee," said Montana Power customer support manager Deb Young. "We think we can demonstrate for our customers this money did serve some good public purposes."
Montana Power's 1999 USBC report concluded: "Many pre-existing programs and contractor relationships contributed to the 1999 successes, as did the hunger in the renewable community for opportunities made available by USB."
The biggest single chunk of the utility's 1999 USBC funding--about $2.5 million, or 32 percent of the total--went for self-directed conservation by large customers. Low-income activities received slightly more than $1.8 million total (24 percent), while local conservation initiatives had about $1.6 million (21 percent). The remainder was split between market transformation ($721,031, or 9 percent), renewable energy ($654,449, or 8 percent) and research and development (all for renewables, at $409,117, or 5 percent). Funding percentages had been established by the Montana Public Service Commission, with stakeholder input.
Montana Power reported total USBC energy savings/renewables generation of 1.42 average megawatts, with another 0.79 aMW anticipated from projects completed in 2000 with 1999 funding.
USBC levels were set in the 1997 restructuring legislation at 2.4 percent of utility annual sales revenues for 1995. Montana Power estimates that the typical residential electric customer, using 750 kilowatt-hours per month, pays an average of $1 each month for electric USBC. Commercial customers pay about 0.11 cents/KWh for the USBC, while large customers each pay 0.09 cents/KWh or $500,000 maximum. The three customer sectors contributed roughly equal amounts to the $7.78 million total collected in 1999.
Stakeholder Views on MPC USBC
"We're very pleased with the way Montana Power Co. is implementing the USBC," said Debbie Smith, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council and Renewable Northwest Project. "We're particularly happy about their investments in new renewable projects. They're probably doing the most innovative distributed renewable resource work on a large scale in the region." She also praised the utility for its collaborative attitude in working with her and other members of the USBC advisory committee: "They take very seriously all of our suggestions, and often they implement them."
Smith allowed that she dislikes several legislatively mandated USBC provisions, including the 2.4-percent benchmark ("We'd like it to be higher"), the lack of minimums for areas other than low-income programs, and the $500,000 cap for large industrial customers. "There's a lot of . . . wacky provisions from a policy perspective in our law that the public-interest community in general doesn't support," she said. "With regards only to how Montana Power Co. has implemented this law, I'd give them a grade of an A."
Another advisory committee member, Taffy Miller of energy services company XENERGY, also gave the IOU high marks. "I thought the first year went remarkably well, given the fact it was so new to Montana," she said. "The power company's efforts were tremendous in following through with their historical conservation commitment." Miller said it was easy to work with the utility as a contractor, and, like Smith, she lauded the advisory committee's functioning: "I think that was one of the reasons why it all went so smoothly."
John Hines of the Northwest Power Planning Council's Montana office, who also serves on the utility's USBC advisory committee, said he is "in general pretty pleased" with the first year. And he has heard a "favorable response," for the most part, from customers, program contractors and others.
"I think it's generated a certain level of support, at least within the large customer groups, because of the way it's been implemented," said Don Quander, an attorney who represents 12 of the Montana Power's largest customers. Some industrial customers, he acknowledged, view the USBC as a tax and question whether it should be part of electric rates. Yet, "To the extent they make use of those [USBC] credits, in projects that are very good at their facilities, it is at least winning them over in some measure."
Montana Power expected to collect nearly $8.6 million in USBC funds in 1999, but the actual amount ended up as $7.78 million because of moderate weather and a less-than-full-year billing period, according to Young. "You are going to see some variations," noted Hines, because the USBC collection amount depends on energy consumption.
Large Customers: Slightly more than one-third of Montana Power's 1999 USBC funds came from large customers (those with loads greater than one megawatt or special contracts). And the vast majority of the $2.71 million from this group--more than $2.5 million--went to self-directed conservation, as allowed in the state's restructuring legislation.
"What we found is, within our group of industrial customers, a number of folks had projects that had often been identified as potential energy efficiency projects over a period of time," said Quander. "But frankly, with it always being difficult to claim your share of available resources, they haven't had the incentives or the right economics to invest in it. With the USB program, obviously the money was being collected. Here was the opportunity to put that money to work" for more energy-efficient facilities.
Quander outlined a "mixed bag" of specific USBC-related projects by large customers, including energy management activities, lighting and motor efficiencies, and in one instance "replacing a whole system that was relatively inefficient with a new, more efficient system, to the tune of a quarter-million dollars." None were "extraordinarily new, creative" conservation activities, he added, but, "They all have the earmark of reducing electric power use at the facility. Most fall into traditional categories of conservation."
Hines said he was "a little bit surprised" but "pleased" at the amount of industrial customer self-direction in 1999.
Low-Income: A total of $1.85 million in Montana Power's 1999 USBC dollars were allocated to low-income initiatives--a relatively high percentage of the total (24 percent) compared to public purposes elsewhere. "Montana is a low-income state and we have high energy needs," said Hines. "It's been a priority, at least for me." The 1997 law established a 17-percent minimum for low-income energy and weatherization assistance, and the PSC set Montana Power's allocation at 21 percent for weatherization, bill payment assistance, outreach and emergency bill payment assistance. Additional monies directed from large customers helped bump up this category in 1999.
"Most funds in this category have been committed to three purposes: bill assistance for LIEAP [Low Income Energy Assistance Program] eligible customers on the Montana Power electric bill; weatherization of homes for Montana Power distribution customers whose income falls below 150 % of the federal poverty guidelines; and emergency energy assistance for income-qualified Montana Power distribution customers through Energy Share of Montana," said the utility's report. "More than 7,500 low income projects for individual customers are served with these funds," which saved 924,000 kilowatt-hours. "If all energy companies in the country displayed that kind of commitment to helping low income customers, the job of helping people stay warm would certainly be less difficult," said Jim Nolan of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, in a Montana Power news release.
Local Conservation: This category covers on-site energy audits for residential and small commercial customers, as well as the Efficiency Plus Business Partners program that "offers funding for local energy conservation and load management projects in new and retrofit applications including commercial, institutional, industrial, agricultural and multi-family residential facilities systems."
Montana Power 's Young said the utility "really worked hard to bridge from the demand-side management days to the USBC days," and she cited the continuing Efficiency Plus programs as a prime example.
Market Transformation: This category includes Montana Power's continuing participation in the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, whose projects now extend into all of the IOU's service territory, not just the western portion as before. This category also includes a commercial lighting rebate program.
Renewable Energy: Montana Power approved 15 wind and solar energy projects with 1999 USBC funds, covering energy generation, education, research, infrastructure and development. "The customers and renewable community are embracing the opportunities to grow the renewable opportunities and markets in Montana," the utility reported. "Projects funded in 1999 range from researching wind energy opportunities in Montana to installing solar electric generation equipment at individual customer's homes. Most projects include activities to create greater awareness of the opportunities and benefits of renewable energy installations through public education and demonstration sites." (See Con.WEB, Jan. 26, 2000, for an article on one such project, the Sun4Schools initiative.)
Public-Purposes Advice For Other States
Young believes that bringing in stakeholders helped Montana Power with its USBC programs. "We felt that would give us a better end product for our customers, and allow us to direct as much of the benefits of the funds to our customers as possible, which is really our goal," she said. Smith agreed: "There's a lot of customer benefit that is derived by working closely with experts in the particular interest areas," as they know how to make programs work.
Hines encouraged making conservation and renewables part of the restructuring debate from the beginning; he noted that Gov. Marc Racicot included continuation of public purposes in his initial restructuring principles.
XENERGY's Miller urged states to "keep a very, very open mind about the services they're providing," and to maintain "tried-and-true" initiatives--such as on-site energy audits of the type her company offers--while still trying "a little bit more progressive" ideas such as Internet-based audits. She also endorses utility involvement over state-operated public purposes: "I think you have a much better run program because you have pride of authorship," she said. "I think the way Montana has run it is pretty much ideal, because the power company is so tremendously involved."
Quander has talked with many people in other states about Montana's restructuring experience and the USBC. "They've been very interested in what's been done up here as a potential model they might follow," he said, "in particular as a way of bringing on board support, or at least avoiding resistance from, commercial and industrial customers who otherwise might not be, for philosophical or financial-type reasons, enamored of USBC."
Montana Power's first year did have some transition pains, however. The utility's report acknowledged a "painful stop and restart" for commercial-sector programs in 1999, with uncertainties over program administration and detailed rules and guidelines. "Increased participation in the last quarter of 1999 and continued interest in the early months of 2000 indicates recovery in this sector in 2000," the utility reported.
"Our 2000 plans are very much in line with what we did in 1999," said Young. "We'll sustain that sort of a mix of programs and funding as well."
Beyond that, however, the future looks murkier. Montana Power has announced its intention to focus on telecommunications and sell off its energy businesses, which it hopes to accomplish by the end of this year. The restructuring law, however, put the USBC charge in effect until July 1, 2003; until then any buyer[s] of the IOU's system will have to collect public-purposes funding and, according to Young, either operate programs or turn the money over to the state.
Meanwhile, there is some talk of lengthening the USBC funding. "Clearly the need for low-income services is going to extend beyond 2003," said Smith. "The evidence is pretty clear at this point we're not going to have workably competitive markets for wind and solar renewable resources by that point, or for many market transformation conservation projects. With the region moving into [power supply] deficit soon, there's very good policy reasons for getting an extended commitment by the state to continue those programs." She described herself as "cautiously optimistic" about a consensus agreement for USBC extension by year's end, in time for the 2001 Montana legislative session.
Quander said his large customer clients have a "wait and see" attitude about the USBC. "If it functions fairly smoothly, if they're able to make effective use of those funds, they shouldn't at least have an incentive to oppose it, and some of them might even actively support" renewal. But he also noted "substantial reservations" among some legislators about the USBC as a utility charge, particularly the conservation and low-income components. "The jury is still out on whether it will be renewed or in what form," he said.--Mark Ohrenschall
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Growing demand for green power is spurring new wind-energy development for the Pacific Northwest.
Bonneville Power Administration recently announced it will buy power from 16.8 megawatts of new wind capacity to be built by SeaWest WindPower in the Foote Creek Rim area of Wyoming, site of three existing wind farms. BPA plans to sell this output in its environmentally preferred power, for which nine sales have already been recorded and two more are in negotiations, according to BPA's George Darr. "We have customers who would like new wind power now," he said. "It's responding to customer demand."
Another recent agreement involving Bonneville will furnish Portland General Electric with 8 MW of new wind-energy capacity from a yet-to-developed project that is "somewhere between conceptual and real," according to Angus Duncan of the Bonneville Environmental Foundation. This particular initiative could reach 100 MW--more than double the current wind-energy capacity directly serving the Northwest from existing wind farms in Wyoming and Oregon.
"This is sort of the opening act of an effort we and the folks at Bonneville have been working on for quite a while to see if we can put together a large regional wind project, to acquire some economies of scale doing a single large one rather than a few little ones, and then be in a position to repackage the output from the project" to suit the particular energy needs of utility customers. "PGE's commitment . . . is the first fruit of that," Duncan said.
More Wind from Wyoming
The Wyoming expansion, dubbed Foote Creek IV, will add 16.8 MW of wind power capacity from 28 turbines at the notoriously windy locale between Laramie and Rawlins. This should translate to about 7 average megawatts annually, with a projected capacity factor slightly above 40 percent, Darr said. Long-term average cost is figured at about 3.5 cents per kilowatt-hour for the energy, with another 1.5 cents/KWh or so for transmission and storage services. These new turbines should be operating by September.
"We've been very happy with what's happened with the first two projects" at Foote Creek Rim, Darr said. BPA gets power from 15 MW of the 41.4-MW-capacity Wyoming Wind Energy Project owned by PacifiCorp and Eugene Water & Electric Board. Separately, it arranged for the output of an additional 1.8 MW of capacity built by SeaWest. Public Service Co. of Colorado also has a 25-MW-capacity wind farm at Foote Creek Rim.
"Wind energy is getting more interest," said BPA administrator Judi Johansen in a news release. "Our customers are supporting it. We are bringing it to market."
Darr believes the federal wind energy production tax credit, now at 1.8 cents/KWh for 10 years, has been "very important" in dropping the cost of wind energy to more competitive levels. Today's projects can spin out energy at a levelized long-term total cost in the range of 3 cents/KWh to 5 cents/KWh, according to Rachel Shimshak of Renewable Northwest Project.
"A bigger part of it is related to this emerging market for green power," Darr said. "Customers are demanding it. Utilities are trying to supply it to keep their customers."
New Regional Wind Energy
Portland General wants new wind power for its Clean Wind Power program, in which customers of the investor-owned utility can sign up for blocks of power, with half the collected funds earmarked for development of new Northwest wind energy.
"Essentially BPA is acting as an aggregator for us," explained PGE's Rick Weijo. "They're going to aggregate our wind load . . . and they would work on finding other utilities who would sign similar agreements," which would bring in economies of scale to reduce costs.
PGE signed up for 8 MW of new wind capacity over 10 years--anticipated to produce about 3 aMW annually--at a price "adjusted to reflect the same price offered to other BPA preference customers," Weijo said. The IOU could buy increments of additional capacity if needed.
Portland General expects the wind power to come from somewhere in the Northwest, according to Weijo, and to be operating by the end of 2001.
Bonneville and BEF--which earns revenue from portions of BPA green power sales, for reinvestments in renewable energy and watershed restoration projects--are talking with several wind-energy developers, according to Duncan. The preferred location[s] are eastern Oregon and/or eastern Washington, with good transmission access. "It might end up in two or more locations," he said. "A single project in the 100-megawatt-plus range is a possibility."
"The idea in all of this is to try to demand very aggressive pricing from the developers and get this stuff down at least within conversational distance of system power," now inching above 3 cents/KWh. "The gap is not as wide as it used to be. The latest power from Wyoming is about 5 cents, with the tax credit. We're hoping to drive that down to 4.5 cents or conceivably even lower. The developers really are responsible for the siting. What we're trying to do is aggregate the customers."
An extension of the federal tax credit beyond its scheduled expiration at the end of 2001 is possible, but far from certain, according to Duncan. "We want to assume that it won't exist, and that we need to get the project in by the end of next year."
The BPA-PGE agreement "really heralds the advent of the wind energy age," said BPA account executive Dennis Oster in a BPA news release. "The combination of increasing customer demand for truly environmentally friendly, renewable resources and the steadily dropping development costs of new wind farms is making this deal, as well as others like it, increasingly doable."
This also represents a commitment fulfilled, noted Shimshak, specifically from the PGE-Enron merger in the mid-1990s. And the Foote Creek Rim sequels are following a 1991 agenda from the Northwest Power Planning Council, which included development of a commercial-scale demonstration project. "It was the right strategy," she said.
Developing new wind resources is "really an important goal," according to Shimshak. "If you're just stirring around the same pot, you're not making much of a difference."
Wind brings a number of advantages as an energy resource, she said, including easy incremental additions and price stability. Although the Northwest's low electric rates might argue against building renewables here, she sees "strong interest" by developers in the region. "If you do your homework you see how many utilities are actually stepping forward and listening to their customers and trying to deliver greener products. If you're paying attention, you understand what the potential is."--Mark Ohrenschall
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Tacoma Power now offers green power to its customers.
The municipal utility serving Washington's third-largest city launched its EverGreen Options in April, allowing residential and business customers to pay a monthly premium to support green power--specifically, Tacoma's purchase of one megawatt of environmentally preferred power from Bonneville Power Administration.
Although this is not the largest utility green power purchase in Washington, Tacoma's retail offering is believed to be the state's biggest in potential customer base (Tacoma Power serves about 146,000 customers).
"We are excited about both the power purchase and the retail offering on which it is based," said Tacoma Power superintendent Steven Klein in a news release. "We believe it is a good thing to do for our customers and our environment. Based on our customers' response to this pilot project, we may purchase more green power in the future." Conversely, according to the EverGreen Options Web site, "If customer participation is low, the program may be discontinued."
Initial local reactions are positive, Tacoma Power's Peter Meyer told Con.WEB in late May, although "there hasn't been an overwhelming response" in customer sign-ups. Bill stuffers, direct mail and newspaper advertising focused on residential customers are among the marketing techniques either under way or planned.
Klein told the Tacoma Public Utilities Board the EverGreen Options represents "a tremendous opportunity for goodwill and education," according to The News Tribune local newspaper. He also indicated the utility has "relatively little credibility out there" on environmental issues.
An editorial in the newspaper described the new program as "an intriguing way to find out just how environmentally conscious Tacomans really are . . . Tacomans who voluntarily choose the EverGreen option on their power bills can accomplish two things: They'll promote a cleaner, greener Northwest, and they'll help prove that Tacoma is a city whose citizens genuinely care about the environment."
Tacoma residential customers can pay $3, $6 or $10 extra per month (respectively labeled, frog, salmon and otter levels) for green power under EverGreen Options. These fixed amounts will appear as itemized charges on utility bills. Business customers also can participate: the levels are $6, $12 or $20 monthly for small businesses, and $30, $60 or $100 a month for large businesses, according to Meyer.
Tacoma arrived at these prices after research into other retail green power programs, he said. The utility aims to recover the incremental cost of the BPA green power.
Tacoma Power already has green resources in its rate base, including a local landfill-gas project, Meyer said. With EverGreen Options the utility wanted to offer customers a choice.
"All of the revenue collected by Tacoma Power for EverGreen Options will be used to support green power and the environment," according to the Web site. "A portion of the money will be paid to the Bonneville Power Administration to cover the additional cost of producing the environmentally preferred power. The rest--the larger portion--will go to the Bonneville Environmental Foundation to acquire more green resources and improve watersheds and fish and wildlife habitats."
The utility has no current plans to generate its own green power, the site noted. But by purchasing from BPA, Meyer said, Tacoma gains added flexibility as well as green resources already sanctioned by environmental groups.
Meyer pegged the green power purchase price at $435,000 over 16 months. The Public Utilities Board signed the BPA contract in mid-April, according to a news release, although power delivery and billing to participating Tacoma customers won't start until June 1. This is BPA's ninth sale of environmentally preferred power, collectively representing almost 22 MW.--Mark Ohrenschall
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Three solar energy projects around the Northwest have been awarded funding through the Bonneville Environmental Foundation's first open solicitation for renewable energy and watershed restoration initiatives.
Two selected projects--one each in Washington and Montana--involve solar-powered water pumping for livestock. A third, in Washington's San Juan Islands, includes installation of solar photovoltaic systems on public facilities. These solar projects collectively will receive slightly more than $100,000 from BEF, which in late April also announced funding for three watershed initiatives.
"These projects are good for their communities, good for the environment and good for the watersheds," BEF chair and former Oregon Sen. Mark Hatfield said in a news release. "All of these projects documented that they had the knowledge to do continued good work and the support of people who can help implement their proposals. The region's streams and fish runs will be healthier, and the air cleaner, for their efforts."
BEF, which formed in 1998, last year funded the Solar Ashland project in southern Oregon and two watershed initiatives.
The latest projects came from an open solicitation in late 1999 that it brought in about 40 watershed proposals and fewer than 10 renewable energy initiatives, according to BEF president Angus Duncan. "I was frankly a little disappointed in the number at first," he said, although he believes future solicitations--the next is planned this fall--will bring in more prospects as BEF becomes better known.
In addition to the three solar-energy projects chosen for funding, BEF is "deferring" two other renewables proposals "to figure out how to work through them," according to Duncan. These involve solar in the Tri-Cities area of Washington and biomass energy from dairy cattle manure in several regional locations.
Solar Energy in Western Washington
One of the three solar projects accepted by the foundation will be located--contrary to conventional wisdom--in maritime western Washington.
Orcas Power & Light Cooperative, which serves about 10,000 members in the north Puget Sound's San Juan Islands, will use its $37,000 BEF grant to install eight 300-watt grid-connected solar PV systems in public places, such as utility offices and local parks, according to general manager Doug Bechtel. "These will be demonstration units," he explained. "They'll have a graphical display so you'll be able to see more than a panel in a field." The co-op hopes to have the eight systems installed and operating by the end of summer.
Orcas also plans to offer financial help to local residents to hook up PV systems to the grid. "Our goal is to encourage development of green power resources in San Juan County to the maximum extent possible," said Bechtel. "We have many people with PV systems, and wind to a much lesser extent, who are not grid-connected. We're trying to encourage them to connect." Using money collected through its green power program--bought at wholesale from Bonneville Power Administration and sold to participating cooperative members at a 3.5 cents per kilowatt-hour premium--Orcas will likely develop a "standard offer" per-energy-unit payment for residents who link PV to the grid.
BEF's Duncan said the Orcas project is "very similar" to Solar Ashland, but on a smaller scale. The San Juans lie in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains, he noted, making it "one of the few cases west of the Cascades where you can plausibly make a case for solar." BEF board member Rachel Shimshak called this "a good model project we would highly encourage other cities to adopt."
Energy Production, Riparian Improvements
A goal to produce renewable energy while simultaneously improving riparian habitat is highlighted by the other new BEF solar projects. "The people proposing them understood how moving stocks off streams made sense biologically," Duncan said. "Those will be two projects that I think will reinforce the view that solar has extended niche applications in the Northwest," particularly for small electric loads a nominal distance beyond the grid.
That's the case in north-central Washington's Methow Valley, where solar applications are "very, very cost-effective" a quarter-mile and more past the last power line, according to Ellen Lamiman of Okanogan Electric Cooperative.
With $38,000-plus from BEF, Okanogan plans to install four solar-powered water-pumping systems in the mountain valley, helping to raise awareness of the practice. PV systems will be sized based on the amount of water needed for particular livestock herds, and the pumping height.
"It's a demonstration," said Lamiman. "Its purpose is to add another tool for managing riparian areas for ranchers," compared to the costly and environmentally damaging practice of stringing new electric lines for pumping power.
The co-op wants to bring PV to both private and public lands in this project, as a local solar showcase. "People intuitively know that it works," said Lamiman, but, "You've got to see one and touch one and kick one." Shifting cattle herds away from riparian areas can significantly improve the environmental quality of those waterways--tapping into a hot local issue. "We want to make sure all those making policy on how to keep our watershed and increase fish habitat are aware this tool could help them out," she said.
The first project, already in progress, is located along the Methow River between Twisp and Winthrop. Others should be in place by summer's end, Lamiman said.
Southwestern Montana's Big Hole watershed will be the site of the other solar stock-watering project, with $28,500 in BEF funding. As in the Methow, this initiative could benefit local fish populations.
The Big Hole is widely known as a highly productive trout stream, according to the National Center for Appropriate Technology, which proposed the project to BEF. But it frequently has low water conditions near the end of the short summers. "Ditches are an extremely inefficient means of delivering water to cattle," because of evaporative losses and leaks, according to NCAT's proposal. A total of 14 stock-watering wells (including one with solar-powered pumping) were recently installed next to eight large stock-watering ditches.
NCAT plans to work with other stakeholders "to build one additional solar-powered stock-watering well . . . at a key location in the Big Hole watershed by the fall of 2001, enabling ranchers to leave water in the stream during critical low-flow periods. This project would significantly increase the margin of safety for grayling and trout populations." The project seeks to expand awareness among ranchers of solar-powered water pumping.
"We all have high hopes . . . that the demonstration of these technologies and their use in cost-effective applications like the solar watering will inspire more use of the resource," said Shimshak.--Mark Ohrenschall
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A new solar photovoltaic system is spinning out electrons in a highly visible but not-so-sunny locale.
Local political leaders and energy officials were on hand April 19 to dedicate the 2-kilowatt-capacity PV system at Seattle Center. Funded by Seattle City Light, the sun-tracking system rises atop three separate poles on a building adjacent to the city's largest (post-Kingdome implosion) indoor gathering place, Key Arena.
The new system is believed to be the largest PV installation in Seattle and surrounding King County, according to photovoltaics project manager Mike Nelson of Washington State University Cooperative Extension Energy Program.
Its value lies in demonstration and education--not cost-effective energy production. The system should create in the range of 3,000 kilowatt-hours annually, according to Nelson, at a projected cost of about 18 cents per kilowatt-hour.
"It is a small installation, but we're going to learn a great deal about solar in our community," City Light superintendent Gary Zarker said at the dedication ceremony. Although acknowledging "some legitimate skepticism" about solar energy performance in Seattle's famously gray climate, Zarker said, "We want to make this a laboratory," and noted that PV generates electricity from daylight even on cloudy days.
Seattle City Council member Richard Conlin sounded a similar theme, using the words "pilot" and "experimentation" in describing the PV system. "Seattle Center is, of course, Seattle's gathering place," said Conlin. He hopes people will "get inspired" seeing solar energy in action.
The popular Seattle Center--originally developed
|Seattle Center solar
Photo by Mark Ohrenschall
K.C. Golden, the city of Seattle's climate change project coordinator, touted the new PV as a valuable demonstration of local solar and described the installation as "small, but it is a market-builder." Golden did acknowledge that based solely on price, solar is not a competitive energy resource.
"Solar is one of the most important innovations in saving energy," said chief executive officer Jim Duncan of Sparling, whose company prepared electrical drawings and helped with power issues. Solar energy is non-polluting and infinitely available, he said, and this installation represents "a very significant step in showing how solar works in Seattle."
WSU's Nelson credited the initial idea for the Seattle Center PV to Sam Vanderhoof of Trace Engineering, an Arlington, WA-based firm that makes power inverters for renewable energy systems. Zarker gave the project go-ahead in early March. Nelson noted that a total of 28 different groups--including various City Light and Seattle Center departments, Sparling, WSU Energy Extension, Trace, Bonneville Power Administration, volunteer installers and others--collaborated to get the PV system up and running before Earth Day.
Nelson said project leaders chose a 2-KW system to fulfill the Million Solar Roofs program's minimum size requirements for registering commercial PV installations.
The unit's tracking mechanism boosts power output 25 percent, he noted. "In the Seattle climate we wanted to get as much bump in the system as we could." Solar tracking mechanisms typically aren't used in the Northwest because of the region's extreme winter and summer light, but with net metering, "The logic of the tracker begins to make a whole lot of sense," Nelson said. "Net metering gives us virtual seasonal storage."
In practice, though, the new system is "not even white sound in terms of the output," he noted. "Given the size of the Northwest rooms at Seattle Center, we'll never spin the Center meter backwards . . . It'll really be all consumed locally," with the power flowing from the inverter to the center's distribution panel. But during power outages, the PV system could directly provide power to light the Rainier Room, which is occasionally used as a homeless shelter during inclement winter weather.
Nelson confirmed as "a very reasonable figure" the system's anticipated production of about 3,000 KWh annually, based on a solar PV capacity factor of 16 percent to 18 percent in Seattle. A separate meter will measure the actual output.
The solar system (excluding the three poles) cost $15,900. It was funded by Seattle City Light and ordered through the fledgling Western S.U.N. Cooperative, according to Nelson.
Each of the system's three trackers hosts two strings of four PV modules apiece, with each module rated at 85 watts. The monocrystalline laser-grooved modules provide for high efficiency, according to Nelson, especially in the low-light conditions often found in Seattle. Trace supplied the inverter to switch direct current to alternating current (a process that results in at least 15-percent energy loss). And Zomeworks, made the passive tracking system, the only moving parts of which are hinge pins and shock absorbers. "It uses the heat of the sun to track," said Nelson. "There is no parasitic use of energy in tracking."
A longtime solar advocate, Nelson is particularly enthused about the educational potential of this PV system. "One thing we gain from this whole project that I'm the most excited about is a first-class training facility, for just teaching people general solar principles," he said. "Having a nice, easy-to-see, easy-to-show-and-tell system for the lay public . . . is really great."--Mark Ohrenschall
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A new Web site intended to offer solutions to help improve the comfort, efficiency and productivity of commercial buildings made its debut May 1.
Betterbricks.com, a key element of the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance's Efficient Building Practices Initiative, "provides information, guidance and shared experience to ease comparies toward a better, more efficient working environment," according to an Alliance news release. "It also encourages interaction among commercial building owners and occupants, developers, builders and designers to achieve an understanding of the impact lighting, temperature control, and air quality has on workplace comfort and efficiency and provides tools and resources that enable people to act."
The Alliance is promoting Betterbricks.com through mass media advertising, public relations, on-line promotions, a speaker program and direct mail outreach. Utilities and others can become involved in these marketing efforts; contact Elaine Miller at the Alliance: phone, 1-800-411-0834, extension 246; e-mail, email@example.com.
OFFICES: Mail-P.O. Box 900928, Seattle, WA 98109-9228. EXPRESS: 117 West Mercer, Seattle, WA 98119.
TELEPHONE-(206) 285-4848. FAX-(206) 281-8035. E-MAIL-newsdata.com.
Con.WEB was created by the Energy NewsData Web team, including: Publisher-Cyrus NoŽ; Editor-Mark Ohrenschall;
Contributing Editors-Jude Noland; Cassandra Sweet
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Please contact Mark Ohrenschall,
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