1) Council Finds 3,200 aMW of Possible Conservation Ahead, 2,600-Plus aMW Achieved Behind
2) Northwest States Still among National Efficiency Leaders, Despite Big Spending Cuts in 1990s, ACEEE Study Finds
3) Seattle Mayor Trims City Light Conservation Program Funding by About 12 Percent
4) Puget Signs Wind Energy Deal, Files Draft Least-Cost Plan with Expanded Renewables, Conservation
5) Discussion Temporarily Silenced on BPA's Future Conservation/Renewables Role
6) Cal Shirley: Longtime Energy Conservation Official Moves from Public Power to Puget Sound Energy
7) Clallam County PUD Signs Landmark Wave Power Purchase
8) Energy Northwest Expands Nine Canyon Wind Project, Pursues New Biomass Technology Venture
9) Column on Proposed Central Washington Wind Projects Generates Reader Responses
10) Con.WEB Launches New Features, Plans Other Revisions
Conservation is a substantial energy resource for the Pacific Northwest, historically and potentially in the future, according to the Northwest Power Planning Council.
A Council preliminary analysis finds 3,200 average megawatts of cost-effective energy savings achievable regionwide by 2025--the energy equivalent of serving nearly three Seattles. This initial analysis, released in early April, will be further refined as the Council develops its next regional power plan, scheduled for completion later this year or early 2004.
Residential lighting efficiencies represent the single biggest energy-saving opportunity, the Council's early numbers show, followed by residential space conditioning. The residential sector altogether accounts for 1,875 aMW of cost-effective conservation potential. Council conservation manager Tom Eckman described these residential figures as "pretty well scrubbed." He attributed the sizable cost-effective potential in this sector to advances in efficiency technologies (such as compact fluorescent lamps and heat pumps) and practices (such as duct-sealing) over the past decade, along with somewhat higher power costs.
Commercial energy efficiencies amount to 950 aMW, based on preliminary estimates, while prospective non-aluminum industrial savings total 350 aMW and agricultural conservation is pegged at 25 aMW. Eckman called these commercial/industrial numbers "highly preliminary ... You can view them as probably placeholders," subject to further information gathering and analysis.
|(Courtesy of Northwest Power Planning Council)|
The Council plans to have firmer conservation numbers within the next two months, after which future efficiency oppportunities will be evaluated with other energy resources. An action plan will eventually emerge. "First we have to figure out how much [conservation] is worth doing," said Eckman.
Meanwhile, the Council also looked back in time and reported that utility/Bonneville Power Administration initiatives, state energy codes and federal energy efficiency standards have combined to save more than 2,600 aMW since 1980. As of 2000, this conservation supplied about 9.4 percent of the region's electricity supply, exceeded only by hydropower (63.9 percent) and coal-fired generation (13.3 percent), and ahead of natural gas (7.8 percent) and nuclear (3.9 percent), the Council said.
Codes and standards account for about 1,100 aMW "at very little cost to utilities," and the utility/BPA efforts acquired about 1,500 aMW at an average cost of about 2 cents per kilowatt-hour, Eckman said. "This is really cheap stuff for utilities to get ... It's probably comparable in cost to some of the hydro projects, for what's embedded in rates."
Preliminary Conservation Assessment
The Northwest has accomplished a lot of energy conservation over the past two decades, but much more is obtainable, according to the Council.
In the residential sector, the Council's preliminary assessment counts 1,875 aMW of cost-effective energy savings available through 2025. Cost-effectiveness is gauged against market power costs, in this scenario a base case with average water conditions each year and a single fuel price forecast, Eckman said. Future analyses will examine a much wider range of scenarios.
Lighting measures top the residential chart, at 660 aMW. This is about 10 times more than the residential lighting potential estimated in the Council's 1998 regional plan, which was largely based on 1995 data. Eckman noted that CFLs in the mid-1990s cost $15 or more and didn't fit some fixtures; today they typically cost $6 and under and fit virtually everywhere.
Next comes space conditioning, at 575 aMW. Converting heating systems to air-source heat pumps is considered the most abundant measure, at 160 aMW, followed by heat pump and central air conditioning efficiency upgrades (150 aMW), duct sealing (125 aMW), weatherization measures (80 aMW), new construction (40 aMW), system commissioning (20 aMW) and air conditioner upgrades (5 aMW).
Heat pump conversions and duct sealing are prime examples of efficiency applications progressing over the past decade, Eckman said. "We've got a bunch of measures that because of higher [power] prices and because of technology advances are now available to use and they weren't in the supply curve last time." Meanwhile, the Council's avoided cost has risen from about 3 cents/KWh in the 1998 plan to 4 cents/KWh in this analysis, he said.
Water-heating efficiencies could contribute another 335 aMW, primarily from heat-pump water heater installations (225 aMW), but also from efficient tanks (95 aMW) and wastewater heat recovery (15 aMW).
Appliances are listed at 310 aMW--95 percent from clothes washers. The Council noted that the most efficient clothes washer available exceeds by 75 percent federal efficiency standards effective in 2007. Dishwashers (15 aMW) and refrigerators (5 aMW) also could deliver cost-effective negawatts to the region.
In the commercial sector, lighting also represents a bountiful energy-saving measure, according to the Council's preliminary analysis. Lighting retrofits in existing buildings could supply an estimated 250 aMW by 2025, costing in the range of 2 cents/KWh to 3 cents/KWh. Lighting in new commercial buildings is listed at roughly 200 aMW. The Council foresees continuing efficiency improvements in fluorescent, incandescent and high-intensity discharge (HID) lighting, along with daylighting and controls. More efficient T-8 lamps increase cost-effective retrofit opportunities, Eckman said.
HVAC and window efficiencies could combine for another 200 aMW of cost-effective conservation by 2025, the Council reports.
Washington and Oregon commercial energy codes already set high standards for efficiency, but the Council describes further "significant" potential. Integrated building design and improved standard practice--as for example with lower lighting power densities--each could cost-effectively exceed code requirements by 30 percent, the Council said.
Beyond building measures the Council also forecasts more than 340 aMW of achievable efficiencies costing 3 cents/KWh or less in the commercial sector, including packaged refrigeration, 100 aMW; sewage treatment, 74 aMW; network personal computer management, 73 aMW; light-emitting diode (LED) exit signs, 52 aMW; water treatment, 30 aMW; and LED traffic lights, 14 aMW.
|Summary of cost-effective residential sector conservation resource potential by major end use
(Courtesy of Northwest Power Planning Council)
Conservation potential assessments of the regional non-aluminum industrial and agricultural sectors are less refined, although the Council lists 350 aMW for industrial and 25 aMW for agriculture. A big question is the future of certain Northwest industries, such as pulp and paper, wood products and food processing. "It's more problematic than ever to estimate what the savings will be for existing industries," Eckman said. "We may see a completely different mix" emerge over the next 20 years.
In agriculture, energy-saving prospects will expand from irrigation efficiencies to "on-farm" processes, such as milking and milk processing.
As it released preliminary conservation prospects for the region, the Council also offered a historical perspective on Northwest energy savings.
In 1980, conservation was enshrined in the Pacific Northwest Electric Power Planning and Conservation Act as the top-priority new energy resource, a Council news release noted. The Council's first action plan called on BPA and utilities to start conservation programs, local governments to adopt more energy-efficient building codes, and the federal government to create efficiency standards for appliances and new manufactured homes.
From 1980 through 2001, BPA and Northwest utility programs have cumulatively saved almost 1,500 aMW, the Council said. State and local energy codes--mainly in the commercial sector--have added about 735 aMW, almost entirely since 1990. Federal appliance and manufactured housing standards have added 375 aMW of regional conservation.
This total, more than 2,600 aMW, equalled about 12 percent of the region's 21,000 aMW load in 2001.
Eckman offered other comparisons. The achieved regional conservation equals the second-biggest source of supply on the BPA system, ahead of nuclear power and equivalent over 20 years to the firm energy output of three Bonneville Dams, he said. And, the 2,600 aMW moves the Council's 20-year load forecast developed in 1983 from a medium-high scenario to a medium-low scenario. He called that "not an insignificant change."--Mark Ohrenschall
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The Pacific Northwest remains a national leader in energy efficiency programs, even though the region's conservation spending plunged exponentially from 1993 to 2000, according to a recent national report.
Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana all rank in the top 20 states for energy efficiency program spending and savings, according to the "State Scorecard on Utility and Public Benefits Energy Efficiency Programs: An Update" published by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. This report incorporates data through 2000, which excludes most energy crisis-related conservation spending as well as Oregon's new public-purposes funding.
Co-authors Dan York and Martin Kushler cited the Northwest as an efficiency stronghold along with the Northeast, California, Florida, some areas of the Midwest and a handful of other states.
But they also document huge efficiency spending drops from 1993 to 2000 in Washington ($234 million in 1993 to $39 million in 2000), Oregon ($49.6 million to $19.1 million) and Idaho ($20.8 million to $5 million), as a result of cuts by Bonneville Power Administration and investor-owned utilities.
Nationally, York and Kushler found total energy efficiency spending has increased somewhat in recent years, rising from $918 million in 1997 to $1.1 billion in 2000. ACEEE in late April announced total state and utility funding had risen to $1.45 billion in 2003. Public benefits funding has grown substantially, and in 2000 accounted for about two-thirds of total efficiency spending, primarily through utilities. Utility demand-side management programs furnished the rest.
"The emergence of public benefits programs has been the dominant trend observed as these programs displace, replace, or supplement 'traditional' utility-delivered DSM programs as the primary public policy mechanism for offering customers energy efficiency programs," wrote York and Kushler.
National Roller Coaster
ACEEE published a similar scorecard in 2000 (see Con.WEB, May 30, 2000), with data available through 1998, and reported that utility DSM program spending fell from more than $1.6 billion in 1993 to slightly more than $900 million in 1997. The demise of integrated resource planning and associated DSM initiatives largely explain this decline, according to York and Kushler.
"When restructuring came on the scene in the mid-90s, the reaction was the [electric] industry was going to change and regulations were going to be loosened or eliminated," Kushler told Con.WEB. "Many utilities and states cut back [on efficiency programs] even before restructuring was passed in their states."
Yet, restructuring also ushered in public funding for the likes of energy efficiency and other socially beneficial programs. "That ... rescued the energy efficiency spending in a number of states, or at least reversed the decline," said Kushler, although he noted the national totals from 2000 still fall well below the early 1990s peaks.
Of the $1.1 billion in 2000 efficiency spending reported in the latest ACEEE scorecard, public benefits funding came to about $720 million, including about $643 million implemented by utilities. Utility DSM spending totalled $376 million.
"Rather than abandoning utility efforts to provide DSM, many states have continued to require that utilities offer such services--whether the utilities are under traditional rate regulation or under a competitive retail market structure," wrote York and Kushler. "State regulatory agencies, legislatures, and governors in a significant number of states are looking beyond the rhetorical claims made by restructuring advocates that 'market forces' alone will assure that consumers make optimal decisions regarding energy efficiency investments."
But even with the emergence of public benefits funding, the report concluded, "there remains a vast resource of energy efficiency opportunities in the United States that is being largely untapped. Two-thirds of the states provide little or no funding support for improving the energy efficiency of their economies."
ACEEE's new scorecard derives much of its data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and some from the Edison Electric Institute, a trade association for investor-owned utilities. York and Kushler acknowledged several caveats, including potential differences in utility-reported EIA data, utilities operating in multiple states, and information available only through 2000. Despite additional research, the data limitations mean "our rankings should be considered approximate," they wrote.
Even with that caution, the Northwest's efficiency spending reductions are unmistakable.
Washington actually ranked first in the 2000 ACEEE scorecard, using slightly different criteria to assess state spending and savings. But in this update the Evergreen State finishes 11th in efficiency spending per capita, at $6.65, about one-third the amount of national leader Connecticut ($19.48). Oregon ranks 14th ($5.58), Montana 15th ($5.21) and Idaho 17th ($3.81). In the category of spending as a percentage of annual utility revenues, Washington is listed 10th, at 0.94 percent. Oregon is 14th (0.78 percent), Montana 15th (0.65 percent) and Idaho 16th (0.52 percent).
Northwest states collectively fare slightly better under the criteria of annual program savings as a percentage of annual retail sales. Washington comes in 7th (3.7 percent), Oregon 10th (3.59 percent), Idaho 15th (2.34 percent) and Montana 19th (1.8 percent). Oregon, Idaho and Montana all recorded substantially more efficiency in 2000 than in 1993; Washington savings dropped nearly in half in 2000 from 1993, although Evergreen State numbers had climbed steadily through 1999 (York said there was a probable underreporting in savings). These are cumulative savings figures, creating what the report called "both a time lag and dampending of the impact of spending declines in total program savings." Kushler and York profess more confidence in the spending figures than the savings numbers, because the former are less prone to state-by-state variations.
The ACEEE figures leave out most energy crisis-related conservation; Northwest utilities reported a record year of 153 average megawatts in savings for 2001, on total spending of about $150 million, according to preliminary information compiled by the Northwest Power Planning Council. It also lacks Oregon's public-purposes funding, which officially began in 2002, primarily administered by the Energy Trust of Oregon.
Northwest funding reported in the ACEEE scorecard includes the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance and its approximately $20 million annual spending. "It's certainly a noteworthy effort," Kushler said of the Alliance, "but the amount of resources they have available is considerably smaller than historical spending in the area."
Although the Northwest may have slipped nationally, the four-state region remains among the top tier of states supporting energy efficiency. The top 16 spending states account for 86 percent of total spending, while the top 25 represent 95 percent of total spending. And even within the top 25, per capita spending ranges from $19.48 to $1.16, an immense variation. "There's a very unequal distribution of energy efficiency efforts in the country," said Kushler.
That suggests to him "a need for federal involvement. Energy efficiency really provides benefits to everyone in the country," lowering power costs and preserving the environment.
Proposed drafts of federal energy legislation lack a national matching fund for state efficiency ventures, he said in early April; some consider that a tax. A national efficiency portfolio standard, with utility energy-saving requirements, "might have a little better chance" politically, he said.--Mark Ohrenschall
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Seattle City Light conservation program funding has been cut some 12 percent by mayor Greg Nickels, as part of a spending reduction plan for the financially troubled city government that excludes higher taxes and higher utility rates.
The $5 million in reduced conservation money through 2004 is accompanied by a projected 20 percent drop in annual City Light energy-saving acquisitions, from 9 average megawatts to 7.25 aMW. Fewer commercial/industrial conservation projects are likely to be the primary result of these cuts, according to a City Light conservation official.
The Northwest's largest publicly owned utility, a longtime regional leader in energy conservation, still plans to deliver 9 aMW of annual energy savings this fiscal year to Bonneville Power Administration under a two-year, $26 million, 18 aMW Conservation Augmentation deal expiring Sept. 30. City Light also intends to explore a future conservation funding arrangement with BPA.
|(Courtesy of the city of Seattle)|
Nickels altogether ordered $31.7 million in City Light spending cuts through calendar year 2004, and plans on $24.5 million in new revenue sources. The municipal utility forecasts $46 million lower-than-planned operating cash balances in 2003, which it attributes to reduced retail loads and below-average precipitation. In addition to City Light, most of the city's larger departments were directed to cut spending by 1.5 percent. Human Services, Police and Fire departments were spared.
"Seattle, like governments across the state, is continuing to see disappointing revenue," Nickels said in a news release. "But I am determined that we deal with hard times by protecting basic services and making tough choices. We're not going to run up the credit card. We're going to make city government live within its means."
'Necessary' Spending Cuts
Nickels' press release described the City Light spending cuts as "necessary because of a combination of poor weather and the continued slump in the regional economy. These have combined to lower demand by City Light customers and to reduce expected revenue from surplus power sales. The mayor rejected additional rate increases or further borrowing as ways to address City Light's revenue shortfalls." Nickels also believes the utility is "on track to repay all of the short-term debt incurred during the energy crisis and begin the process of rolling back rates in 2004." Seattle last year reported the energy crisis had led to retail rate increases totaling 58 percent and a 60-percent increase in outstanding debt.
The $5 million decline in Seattle's 2003-2004 conservation budgets represents the biggest single item among $13.4 million in City Light programmatic spending reductions. Nickels also lopped $18.3 million from the utility's general budget, in the areas of distribution ($6.7 million), finance/administration ($4.3 million), generation ($4.1 million), executive ($1.7 million), customer service ($1 million) and power management ($500,000).
Among $24.5 million in planned new City Light revenue sources is a projected $12 million in continued BPA conservation funding in 2004. However, such a deal is not yet concluded, said Steve Lush, executive assistant in City Light's energy management services division. "We're cautiously optimistic" on reaching agreement with BPA, he told Con.WEB.
Under the current ConAug arrangement, BPA will pay Seattle about $26 million over two years for delivering 18 aMW of energy savings (see Con.WEB, April 30, 2002 for more details). City Light met its 9 aMW target in fiscal year 2002 and, said Lush, "We anticipate meeting the second year of this as well," for the 2003 fiscal year ending Sept. 30.
Meanwhile, the Nickels conservation budget cuts are linked to a drop in City Light's anticipated programmatic energy savings, from 9 aMW to 7.25 aMW. "There is a connection," Lush said. City Light staff helped identify potential spending cuts or deferrals, in response to the mayor and the utility's financial plight, "but also not to lose sight of the long-term benefits or goals," he said.
The dollar and negawatt drops will "largely come out of our commercial/industrial sector" programs, Lush said. About $1.8 million of the annual $2.5 million spending declines will come from reduced C/I incentives. Another $400,000 is targeted from residential and community programs, and approximately $300,000 from staffing and support costs. No layoffs are planned, Lush said, but some unfilled positions will remain empty.
The cuts amount to roughly 12 percent of City Light's $40 million conservation program budget over the next two years.
Of the 7.25 aMW new target, City Light expects about 5.7 aMW from commercial/industrial programs, and 1.55 aMW from residential and community ventures.
Incentive levels for specific energy-saving measures aren't likely to change, according to Lush. "I think it's more the number of projects will go down," he said, with fewer available conservation staffers to work with customers on prospective energy-saving plans.
"We need to be smarter and wiser" in pursuing conservation opportunities, Lush said. "Regardless of this cut or not, with the economy as it is ... surfacing viable and valid projects is more challenging."--Mark Ohrenschall
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Puget Sound Energy's new one-year contract with PPM Energy for 7.7 average megawatts of power from the Stateline Wind Energy Center is the first major non-hydro renewables purchase by Washington's largest utility, and a harbinger for its future power supplies.
The investor-owned utility announced the wind addition to its resource portfolio at the end of March. At the same time it unveiled a draft least-cost plan with increased reliance on renewables and conservation, with targets of serving 10 percent of load with renewables and acquiring 150 aMW of energy savings over 10 years. The balance of Puget's future resources are likely to come from natural gas-fired generation and possibly coal-fueled power, plus market purchases.
Puget needs to line up new electric resources, to meet growing demand among its customers and to replace lost resources as existing power purchase contracts expire and hydro and combustion turbine generation sources become less available.
"We've reached a balanced resource strategy," said Charlie Black, who is leading Puget's least-cost planning effort. He told Con.WEB Puget wants to acquire enough power resources to meet customer needs, but not so much that it will have surplus power.
The PPM contract, for which deliveries started April 1, is "a good example of the way the company is headed," Black said. He declined to share pricing or other details of the contract. Another Stateline power purchaser, Seattle City Light, is paying PPM about 4.16 cents per kilowatt-hour in annual levelized costs for energy output from up to 175 MW of capacity at Stateline and possibly other wind resources, under a 20-year contract signed in 2001.
Puget Resource Directions
Puget plans to lean heavily on natural gas-fired generation--and possibly new coal-fired generation--to fill its impending power gap, according to the draft least-cost plan. The utility said its analysis of different resources "indicates that a portfolio composed of gas-fired and coal-fired generation could have the lowest expected cost and the lowest risk. However, this result is highly dependent on assumptions about key uncertainty factors such as future costs for emissions from fossil-fueled resources. Consideration of this and other factors affecting each major resource type leads to a conclusion that a diversified resource strategy can spread risks and reduce the overall level of risk."
Puget said it will rely more on wind and other renewable resources--such as biomass, solar and geothermal energy--as well as energy conservation, than it has in the past.
The company plans to gain about 15 aMW from energy conservation programs each year for the next 10 years. It also plans to serve about 10 percent of its load with renewable resources, and about 5 percent from wind generation. In addition to its PPM deal, Puget is eyeing two proposed wind farms totaling about 360 MW capacity in central Washington's Kittitas County, on the southeastern edge of the IOU's service territory (see Con.WEB, Jan. 30, 2003, for more details on these proposed projects).
"A utility and its customers can win or lose with too much or too little generating capacity, depending on what happens in the highly volatile wholesale energy market," said Puget president and chief executive officer Steve Reynolds in a news release. "Our draft least-cost strategy is designed to provide customers low cost and low risk by meeting their needs through a balanced portfolio of energy efficiency and supply resources." Puget's supply mix could include purchased power and/or buying or developing new generating plants, alone or with other entities, the release said.
Conservation groups quickly applauded Puget's move toward renewables and conservation, although they were critical of Puget's hints that it might add more coal to its portfolio after 2006.
"We're pleased to see Puget is moving forward with acquiring wind and moving toward a minimum acquisition" of 5 percent of load, said Danielle Dixon of the Northwest Energy Coalition. But she added that NWEC "doesn't believe a heavy reliance on natural gas and coal is the best choice for Puget customers." Increased conservation and use of renewables, and adoption of new technologies, would allow the utility to avoid a heavy reliance on the volatile natural gas market and potentially high costs of complying with air quality regulations, she said.
In a January talk to the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance board of directors, Reynolds said coal-fired power is, "from an environmental standpoint, not my preferred resource. The irony that's there, that we have to contend with, is there is a huge supply of coal and a lot of it's cheap. There will always be somebody who says, 'Why aren't you developing more coal resources for this region?' Other supply sources, including renewables, seem to be higher-priced." Puget's share of the Colstrip coal-fired plants in Montana represents one of the utility's lowest-cost resources, he told the Alliance board. "Between irate shareholders who don't like dividend cuts and irate ratepayers who don't like any rate increases, it's a really tough balancing act."
A final version of Puget's draft least-cost plan was due April 30 to the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission.
The draft is expected to change by August, when Puget plans to file an update including more details about conservation measures.
Puget reported 38 aMW of conservation savings from 1999 through 2002, according to figures compiled by the Northwest Power Planning Council. High prices during the 2000-2001 energy crisis created a strong incentive for customers to conserve and for the utility to encourage conservation, Puget said.
Puget forecasts annual load growth of about 1.4 percent over the next 20 years. Almost one-third of the utility's 2,287 aMW portfolio of generation resources--about 708 aMW--will disappear by 2012 because of expired power purchase contracts. Meanwhile, Puget expects its electric load will grow from 2,377 aMW in 2004 to 2,660 aMW in 2013, and to 3,140 aMW by 2023.
Energy market changes following Enron's bankruptcy have pressured Puget's power situation, leading to a liquidity decline and inabilities to broker deals three months to 18 months in the future, the utility said. Puget's credit rating has slid, making it difficult to broker forward transactions. Failures and credit downgrades of other energy companies have reduced the number of marketers.
As a result, Puget has relied more on the short-term market than it would prefer. As part of its least-cost plan, Puget is looking for ways to replace its dependence on spot market power with long-term power purchase agreements and resource acquisitions, both of which have "much less cost volatility."
Puget has two power purchase contracts with Grant County PUD, one of which expires in 2005, the other in 2009. The utility is working with Chelan PUD to extend or renew a long-term contract that expires in 2012, and is doing the same with Douglas County PUD on a contract expiring in 2018.--Cassandra Sweet and Mark Ohrenschall
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Bonneville Power Administration's future energy conservation and renewable energy role is still under consideration--but not formal discussion, at least for the moment.
BPA's Regional Dialogue on Post-2006 Power Sales Contracts, including conservation and renewables elements, was essentially silenced in February so the region could attend to more immediate business, notably BPA rates. Bonneville expects to resume the post-2006 dialogue in June.
Before this hiatus, the conservation/renewables piece of this much larger post-2006 regional power puzzle had generated considerable dialogue. Northwest utilities, the Northwest Power Planning Council and public interest groups had weighed in with visions of BPA conservation and renewables after 2006, and several workshops furthered the debate.
Stakeholders described progress in discussing BPA's conservation/renewables functions after 2006. Some form of Bonneville's conservation/renewables wholesale rate discount is considered an important though not sole feature of this future. Stable and expanded conservation funding is a widely accepted premise. Among the less-resolved issues are levels of conservation/renewables pursuits and the relative acquisition responsibilities between BPA and utilities.
A significant missing voice in this overall dialogue is BPA's own proposal for post-2006 power sales contracts. That's expected in draft form by early fall.
BPA set a four-month "slow down" period for the Regional Dialogue in early February. "This accounts for the fact that the region will now focus on the rate setting process that will implement the Safety-Net Cost Recovery Adjustment Clause," according to the Regional Dialogue Web site. Some post-2006 discussion have continued, but not conservation or renewables.
"BPA remains committed to the goal of 20-year contracts and clarification of load-serving obligations in the region," the Regional Dialogue Web site declared. "Therefore, it is expected that the process will resume in full in early June. BPA's draft proposal should be available in early fall," followed by a public comment period.
The post-2006 conservation/renewables discussions had moved forward before the break, according to participants.
"I think we were making progress, and at the same time we didn't necessarily agree to anything," said Eugene Rosolie of PNGC Power. "I think there was a pretty good understanding that we came a long way on the conservation stuff on a number of issues ... My sense on the renewables was there were a lot more differences on those than on conservation."
Asked whether various groups were moving closer on positions, BPA energy efficiency vice president Mike Weedall replied, "Yes and no. On certain issues people had their heels dug in. In other areas we saw people come together."
Steve Weiss of the Northwest Energy Coalition said, "I think we have actually quite a few points of agreements, but the points of disagreements are pretty big."
One of those is the amount of conservation and renewables pursued. "The size of the target is obviously a big one. We're not even close," said Weiss, although he noted a general belief that the Northwest Power Planning Council's upcoming conservation potential assessment would help set proportional energy-saving goals.
"On renewables," Weiss said, "we think [utilities] should do a lot more. The utilities are thinking they should do a lot less. That one we're pretty far apart on."
From Rosolie's perspective on the renewables front, "I think it was basically at what level of activity would take place, and where the activity would take place. It was an issue of how much, and then also whether or not it was going to be done by the utilities or be done by BPA."
Financial considerations play into utility thinking, Rosolie said. "It's always an issue, particularly on the renewables side ... even more so than on the conservation side. People see conservation as customer service in a lot of respects," and generally less expensive than renewables.
A specific and substantial point of difference remains on whether targets would apply to a utility's BPA-served load or its total load, in the case of utilities with non-BPA power sources. "We said total load. So did the Council. So did Bonneville. The [utility] customers have said no, just proportional of how much they buy from Bonneville," said Weiss, although he added some utilities are "OK" with the total load idea.
At workshops early this year, "We just took [that issue] off the table," said Weedall. "I think ultimately somebody's going to have to take a run at that issue," perhaps in BPA's own proposal.
Conservation/Renewables Rate Discount
Bonneville's conservation/renewables wholesale rate discount is widely viewed as a key component beyond 2006, although it could be subject to change.
A joint public power/investor-owned utility proposal released in September on BPA's future power supply calls for an "enhanced" C&RD program "to provide incentives for utilities to acquire cost-effective conservation and renewables." The utilities support increasing the discount "to ensure that conservation investments have a stable funding source available."
The Council, in its December recommendations on BPA's future power supply, conceptually backed the C&RD (or something like it) to support local utility conservation. "However," the Council said, "the existing mechanism must be redesigned to ensure cost-effective acquisitions, encourage best practices and minimize the cost of acquisition consistent with achieving the savings. The mechanism also must limit expenditures on activities that do not clearly support the development of tangible savings and ensure accountability."
Council senior policy analyst Charlie Grist said cost-effective C&RD savings make sense to BPA. "Bonneville is under enough cost pressure that it's got to produce more [conservation] megawatts with less money. One way to do that is to not give credits" for non-cost-effective measures. He thinks BPA could help guide C&RD investments in certain technologies. "Strategic thinking focused on a combination of market transformation and utility implementation is going to be criticial," he said. "Bonneville could help by steering it. If you just leave it totally to utilities ... you'll get more of a hodgepodge of efforts."
But tightened C&RD criteria raise a concern for utility flexibility, Rosolie said at a Jan. 14 Regional Dialogue energy efficiency workshop, according to workshop notes posted by BPA. If most qualifying measures are disallowed for cost-effectiveness reasons, he said, individual utilities have less ability to determine their programs.
Bonneville also faces an issue, with a revised C&RD, of ensuring it gets energy savings from its investments without resorting to extensive after-the-fact auditing, BPA's Ken Keating said at the same workshop.
Public interest groups, meanwhile, believe regional load growth can be entirely met with cost-effective conservation and new renewables. They advocate an expanded C&RD program, Weiss said. The current C&RD isn't truly designed for conservation acquisition, he said. And, "People are spending too much on stuff that still counts toward the discount. We were thinking they can only do cost-effective" measures.
Although the C&RD occupies an important place in post-2006 scenarios, it's not likely to become Bonneville's lone demand-side program. "There's pretty much consensus that it couldn't all be a rate discount," said Weedall. "Some things need to be done regionally, such as the [Northwest] Energy Efficiency Alliance" and its market transformation activities. Low-income weatherization is generally considered another regionwide undertaking for BPA funding, as are research and development.
On other general conservation/renewables issues, the Council, utilities and public interest groups converge on the Council's upcoming power plan defining cost-effective resources, a reliance on "proven delivery mechanisms," consistent and increased conservation funding over the period of the new contracts, a reinforced role for the Regional Technical Forum, and "a mechanism for ensuring that cost-effective conservation is implemented," according to the Council recommendations.
Still unclear is BPA's prospective role as a "backstop" for utility conservation and renewables via the C&RD.
Another issue is whether BPA should reduce utility net power requirements by the amount of conservation achieved, a so-called decrement. The Council recommended against this as "a strong disincentive to active participation by the customers in the development of conservation."
On renewables specifically, the Council, utilities and public interest groups all want renewables acquisitions, potentially at above-market prices, and through both BPA and local utility initiatives. The Council suggested its upcoming power plan "should guide renewable resource development in the region."
"I don't get a sense right now from anybody that there's a sense right this minute of urgency" in defining BPA's post-2006 conservation/renewables role, said Rosolie. Nevertheless, "It would be nice to do some planning," knowing the expectations of BPA and its utility customers.
"2006 is not that far away," said Stan Price of the Northwest Energy Efficiency Council. "After individual state public-purposes legislation, the next actions of greatest importance for energy efficiency in the region are the mechanisms developed for stabilizing the financial commitment to efficiency in these long-term regionwide agreements on BPA."--Mark Ohrenschall
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When he received a phone call last year from Puget Sound Energy executive Gary Swofford, Cal Shirley found it "interesting." Swofford, then Puget's chief operating officer and senior vice president, wondered if Shirley had an interest in leading Puget's resurgent energy conservation activities.
Shirley, a longtime public-power and public-sector official then working as senior manager for energy services at Snohomish County PUD, mulled the offer for some time.
Ultimately he accepted Swofford's proposal, and in December switched from Snohomish to Puget, from public power to investor-owned power, from an electric/water utility primarily serving one county to an electric/natural gas utility serving 11 counties.
Now, as Puget's director of energy efficiency services, Shirley oversees an expanding energy-saving portfolio at the utility that has gained more conservation savings in the past 25 years than any other in the Northwest (outside of Bonneville Power Administration), but whose conservation efforts had lagged in recent years.
In a recent interview with Con.WEB, Shirley talked about his switch from Snohomish to Puget, his plans and ideas for Puget conservation, and his views on some regional energy-saving topics.
Career Path to Puget
Sitting in an 11th floor conference room at PSE headquarters in downtown Bellevue, Shirley began the conversation with Con.WEB editor Mark Ohrenschall by outlining his career path since graduating from the University of Washington in 1976.
It's a public-sector journey around Puget Sound, with stints at the city of Bellevue, Seattle City Light, the Richland/Hanford office of the U.S. Department of Energy, King County Department of Housing and Human Services and Snohomish PUD. Much of his work at those entities involved energy efficiency, including policy analysis at City Light, broad-based low-income programs at King County, and management of programs related to energy efficiency, key accounts and product development at Snohomish. "I probably couldn't have planned my career better if I had tried," he said.
Then came Swofford's phone call. "I had been a public-power person for a while. I had to think about that. Why would I want to leave Snohomish County PUD? I did have a very good thing there; it's a good organization.
"After thinking about it a long time, there were some features of real interest," he said.
(Photo by Mark Ohrenschall)
One was Puget's dual-fuel service. "A lot of times electricity only provides part of the solutions. Here you can a bring a greater variety of solutions."
Another attraction was Puget's "strong legacy in conservation. It wasn't a darkly lit leap for me. Being associated with people who I knew to be good people from before was a benefit."
Shirley also found himself intrigued by Puget's "much larger and more diverse service territory."
Three months into the job at Puget, Shirley said he hadn't yet noticed "huge differences" between public power and investor-owned utilities in energy efficiency. "However, there are some differences in the way we pay for conservation programs, having riders and trackers."
Generally, he continued, "I'm hearing more discussions about stockholders and ratepayers ... plus regulators. In the public sector, elected officials are your regulators and your ratepayers and shareholders are one and the same." He said his learning process continues.
Puget's Conservation Direction
About six months before Shirley joined PSE, stakeholders and state regulators approved a Puget rate case settlement with a substantially enhanced conservation plan. The utility committed to an electric energy-saving target of about 20 average megawatts from September 2002 through December 2003--roughly doubling its prior conservation goals--and about 2.8 million therms of gas efficiencies. The 16-month conservation plan calls for $28.5 million in planned spending, including higher financial incentives for commercial/industrial customers and new rebates for residential efficiency measures (see Con.WEB., Aug. 29, 2002).
"My strategy right now is to get that [plan] accomplished," said Shirley. "This is not a time for me to go back and turn over things. There was a lot of good work that was put into the current plan. Some of the programs are legacy and some of the programs are new."
One new element is promoting space- and water-heating conversions from electricity to natural gas in residential areas where Puget's power distribution system faces limits. "Thermodynamically, it makes sense for direct use of gas versus a combustion turbine burning gas to create electricity," he said. "We do have a constraint problem on some parts of our electric system," and financial incentives may help persuade local customers to switch to high-efficiency gas equipment.
"We are looking at fuel conversion where it makes sense," he said, while acknowledging it doesn't qualify as electric conservation.
Shirley also wants Puget customers to continually and expansively think about using energy efficiently, not only in times of high power prices and tight supplies. "Can we agree that, whatever the resource is, whether it's electricity through hydro or combined-cycle [combustion turbines], we ought to be efficient with it? Efficient personal practice--even when we talk about fuel conversion, I'd like to see people go to a high-efficiency system."
Charting a Conservation Course
Looking ahead, Shirley listed two specific initiatives that will help determine Puget's future conservation course for 2004 and beyond.
One is the Northwest Power Planning Council's assessment of regional conservation potential, a draft of which is expected soon (see related story). "We are waiting for outputs in order to Pugetize the numbers, if you will," and refine the specific prospects for its service territory. "I imagine the results of that will have an impact on how we design our programs through 2004."
A second significant piece is Puget's least-cost plan. A recently released LCP draft (see related story) outlined the utility's intentions to save a minimum of 150 aMW over 10 years, and a Puget press release added, "PSE is exploring additional energy efficiency targets beyond the aforementioned goals."
Puget also will continue to engage its conservation advisory group on these planning ventures. "We're going to be consulting with them on all of that," Shirley said. Among the questions for vetting: "What do we want to do with all the programs we currently have? Which ones do we want to move forward into next year? If so, do we want to refine or change any of those? Based on the [Power Council's assessment], is there any new initiative we should pursue?"
Asked about specific energy-saving measures, Shirley said, "There are some efficiency technologies and practices that we know are effective. In the commercial/industrial sector, there's a lot of interest in lighting and controls. There is also some interest in energy-efficient motors. There's a certain amount of heating, ventilation and air conditioning that we're going to be pursuing, in addition to building commissioning."
Initiatives to help shrink peak demand also may emerge. "That's clearly an area where we have information and technological metering utilities we haven't fully realized." Puget halted a pilot venture in widespread time-of-use retail pricing in November after most participating customers paid higher bills than they would have under conventional rates (see Con.WEB, Nov. 26, 2002). "I don't sense there's anybody who wants to throw this away. We have the technology. We have the infrastructure. We'll take a fresh look at it" and assess where TOU might fit in the utility's program portfolio.
Shirley is also interested in learning whether certain programs would generate sufficient participation. "In an economic downturn," he asked, "will people continue to buy durable goods at the same rate, such as dishwashers and clothes washers? If you just got your hours cut from 40 hours [a week] to 20 hours, or you're out of a job, it may not be a high priority ... The conservation potential doesn't translate necessarily into customer participation." Additional market research should offer some insights into this issue, he added.
Shirley also said he is interested in offering programs for all customer classes. "Everybody wants to do the most cost-effective thing possible, but we need to have an equitable distribution of our program efforts and make sure we have something for everybody." Puget's current electric conservation plan earmarks a majority of funding for commercial, industrial and public-sector programs, with a range of residential and other offerings.
From a Northwest energy efficiency perspective, "I think people can fully anticipate that Puget will be a regional player," he said. "PSE, like a number of utilities, saw a downturn in energy efficiency investment and PSE backed away from a lot of the regional participation and involvement when the likelihood of retail open access seemed evident."
Puget chief executive officer Steve Reynolds "is very supportive of this approach. He sees a lot of value in Puget Sound Energy increasing our [conservation] engagement. He clearly sees that's a Northwest value. We need to be a leader in reflecting that value."
At the January Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance board meeting in Bellevue, Reynolds said technological advancements have "added a lot of credibility to the [conservation] programs" over the past 10 to 15 years. "I'm excited seeing what's happening regionwide and nationally. I'm excited what we can do at Puget."
Puget plans to continue its Alliance participation, Shirley said. "This organization supports what NEEA's doing. There isn't any other entity around regionally that even begins to touch the things they're doing, such as making certain kinds of technologies and efficiency practices available to the market. If NEEA were to continue in the way they are now, it's hard for me to see that we would pull away from that."
And, like other tenured Northwest energy conservationists, Shirley is familiar with the regional roller coaster of up-and-down spending and acquisitions. "Most of the people I've talked to personally would like to see more stabilized investment with energy efficiency. It creates havoc with the marketplace, whether you're talking about retailers or vendors who sell energy-efficient products, whether it's trade allies you work with and, most important, customers ...
"I feel we need to just get to a sustainable level of investment in energy efficiency." That also means figuring out appropriate targets and timing for pursuing energy savings.
How will Puget move toward steady-state conservation? "To be determined," said Shirley, with "a lot of internal discussion and a lot of consultations with the collaborative."--Mark Ohrenschall
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A Washington utility has agreed to buy power from a planned wave energy pilot project off the state's northwestern coast, in reportedly the first voluntary utility purchase of wave-generated power.
Clallam County PUD will buy the output from a 1-megawatt-capacity venture planned by AquaEnergy Group in Makah Bay, in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. Clallam's price is 4 cents per kilowatt-hour for wave-generated power over three years.
Clallam PUD's strategic plan emphasizes renewables sited within its service territory, said telecommunications and power resources manager Fred Mitchell. The proposed wave project fits those criteria.
AquaEnergy anticipates the project will begin producing electricity in summer 2004, generating an estimated 0.17 average megawatts annually. The Washington-based firm is still in the permitting stage, and is also pursuing a federal grant for research, development and field monitoring.
Meanwhile, another planned wave energy demonstration project in the greater Northwest, off British Columbia's Vancouver Island, has sunk. B.C. Hydro recently canceled this initiative because it failed to meet the provincial utility's goal of buying new private-sector energy resources at or below 5.5 cents/KWh (Canadian; about 3.8 cents/KWh in U.S. dollars), a spokeswoman said.
However, an official of one of the two wave energy firms selected by B.C. Hydro for this demonstration venture told Con.WEB her company intends to keep working on this project.
AquaEnergy, Clallam Deal
Clallam PUD is believed to be the first utility to voluntarily agree to buy wave-generated electricity, according to Weinstein. She mentioned two other wave power installations in other countries that sell power under government renewable energy orders. "I don't know of any other company that has a real contract with a real utility," she told Con.WEB.
Mitchell said the Olympic Peninsula PUD "is committed to exploring and capitalizing on technologies that can generate alternative energy." He called AquaEnergy "a worldwide pioneer in harnessing offshore wave energy for power generation ... We have agreed to participate in the pilot program to assess feasibility of wave energy conversion."
|(Courtesy of the Makah Nation)|
The risks are "pretty minimal" for Clallam, he said, because it only pays for energy produced. The utility will assist with interconnection and will take the power into its general resource portfolio. In addition to this venture, the utility buys 1 MW of power from Klickitat County PUD's landfill-gas project and is also developing incentives for small local renewable resources, Mitchell said.
Clallam's three-year power purchase term matches the three-year lease AquaEnergy is negotiating with the Makah Nation, one of the project partners. Other entities involved in this venture, according to a news release, include Northwest Energy Innovation Center, Bonneville Power Administration, Energy Northwest, Washington State University, Battelle Memorial Institute and Clallam County Economic Development Council.
AquaEnergy's project would use four buoys anchored about three miles off Makah Bay's shore. As each buoy rises and falls with the waves, an internal hose pump mechanism would pump water inside the buoy to turn a small turbine, which in turn would drive a generator. The power would flow to land via an ocean floor cable, according to the news release. Each buoy could generate 250 kilowatts, although the expected capacity factor of this project would be about 17 percent, with an expected annual output of 1,500 megawatt-hours, or 0.17 aMW.
The company has gathered wave data and analyzed potential cable routes. Weinstein said AquaEnergy has submitted an application to the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, an agency administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Weinstein believes the wave energy project will be environmentally benign.
AquaEnergy's application "is pretty precedent-setting, in terms of being in a national marine sanctuary and it's a new technology," OCNMS superintendent Carol Bernthal told Con.WEB. This would be the first wave-power project in any of the nation's 13 marine sanctuaries, she said.
Although energy production is not expressly prohibited within sanctuaries, AquaEnergy's plans for anchoring buoys and running a cable to land both raise the prospect of seafloor disturbance, which is disallowed, Bernthal said. However, such forbidden activities can be permitted if they meet two criteria. "First, it won't substantially injure sanctuary resources, including living and non-living, the physical habitat as well as the organisms that live there," she said. "It also has to meet one of our objectives of the sanctuary," which can include research, education and promoting the welfare of the Makah Indian tribe.
Among prospective OCNMS concerns with AquaEnergy's proposal are potential impacts on sediment dynamics, seafloor habitat, marine mammals (including gray whales) and ocean views.
"At a four-buoy system, you can make the argument that the impacts are fairly minor," said Bernthal. "The longer and more difficult question to answer is: What is this project ultimately going to be built out to?" Under the National Environmental Policy Act the sanctuary is required to evaluate current and potential future activities, she said. But the long-term prospects are difficult to assess, because AquaEnergy's 1-MW proposal is essentially a demonstration project.
The environmental review process will take at least until December, Bernthal said. The sanctuary is offering to prepare a single environmental document for other federal and state agencies. She praised AquaEnergy as "very forthcoming" in discussions with sanctuary officials about the project and potential ways to minimize impacts.
"I think there's a lot of interest in it locally," she said, also calling it "a very interesting project for us. It brings up a lot of policy questions and has the potential to set precedent in how we treat alternative energy within sanctuaries."
In addition, Weinstein said the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has deemed wave energy a hydropower resource, so the company is seeking a 30-year hydro license from FERC.
AquaEnergy, through its public-sector partners, also is seeking $4 million from Congress in a federal matching-fund grant for research, development and field monitoring, Weinstein said.
"We can't really do it without the federal grant," she said. "There's no way anybody will lend you money on a commercial basis for unproven technology." She said the concept of AquaEnergy's wave energy technology is already proven: "This is more a proof of commercial viability." The company recently announced a $100,000 grant from the Danish Energy Authority for further development of wave energy devices.
B.C. Hydro Gets off The Waves
Across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, B.C. Hydro had embarked on a wave energy demonstration venture off the west coast of Vancouver Island, signing memorandums of understanding with Energetech Australia and Ocean Power Delivery (see Con.WEB, June 28, 2002 for more details).
But B.C. Hydro recently stopped this initiative. "We have actually exited the memorandums of understanding," utility spokeswoman Elisha Odowichuk told Con.WEB in early April. "It's just a matter of that project, in particular, doesn't support the objective of our acquisition program, which is new electricity from the private sector at a ceiling price of 5.5 cents [Canadian] per kilowatt-hour." That translates to about 3.8 cents/KWh in U.S. dollars, well below B.C. Hydro's initial estimate of wave power costs.
Nevertheless, Energetech will continue its work, company official Cynthia Rudge told Con.WEB via e-mail.
"B.C. Hydro canceled the wave energy project for reasons of policy that have nothing whatever to do with Energetech or the technology," she wrote. "We do indeed intend to proceed with the project for a number of reasons. These include the fact that a great deal of good work has been done to date, including early-stage permitting and community consultation. The wave energy resource in the region is excellent and demonstrating the technology successfully in such a good wave climate should allow for eventual strong interest in further projects using the Energetech technology in British Columbia and in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. As well, the community of Ucluelet has come out in strong support of our continuing with the project." B.C. Hydro is "working to provide transition assistance" to Energetech, she added.--Mark Ohrenschall and Jude Noland
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Energy Northwest will expand its 48-megawatt-capacity Nine Canyon Wind Project by 15.6 MW, and sell the additional output to five Washington public utility districts.
Meanwhile, the joint operating agency is teaming with a Kennewick, WA-based company to pursue a new biomass technology that could prove a more efficient way to turn cow manure into electricity.
Nine Canyon Expansion
The Energy Northwest board of directors approved a second phase of Nine Canyon April 23, according to spokesman Gary Miller.
Energy Northwest had considered a "separate but mirror image" of Nine Canyon, known as Zintel Canyon, but, "We didn't generate enough interest to develop that whole project," he said.
This addition will consist of 12 turbines, each with 1.3 MW capacity, adjacent to the existing wind farm near Kennewick.
Douglas County PUD will take the biggest share of Nine Canyon's second phase output, receiving energy generated by 6.8 MW of the new capacity. Okanogan County PUD will get 3.9 MW, Grays Harbor and Chelan County PUDs will acquire 1.95 MW apiece, and Mason County PUD No. 3 will obtain 1 MW.
|(Courtesy of Energy Northwest)|
Energy Northwest hopes to start operating the second phase by Sept. 30, Miller said, to qualify for federal Renewable Energy Production Incentive payments scheduled to expire on that date for new projects. "This is going to be a compressed development schedule," Miller said.
Energy Northwest will finance this Nine Canyon expansion through a bond issue; Standard & Poor's recently gave an A- rating to this $21.8 million issuance. Miller said ENW would purchase the additional turbines from Bonus Energy, the Danish firm that supplied the current turbines, which lie in three rows about eight miles southeast of Kennewick.
Miller said the agency anticipates a slight reduction in overall energy costs from Nine Canyon--from about 3.5 cents per kilowatt-hour to 3.3 cents/KWh--because of economies of scale associated with the second phase, such as using the same substation.
Biomass Pilot Project
In another action, Energy Northwest's board recently approved a biomass pilot project at a yet-to-be-selected Franklin County dairy farm.
The agency wants to find out how much methane can be generated by 1,000 cows. So it's joining forces with Soil Search to test the company's new technology for converting cow manure into methane, which can then be used to generate electricity.
"It's non-traditional due to the developmental nature of the biomass plant," Dan Porter, manager for generation project development, told Con.WEB. Porter added that Energy Northwest was preparing to issue an invitation for bids to "known biomass technology providers," but then learned of Soil Search's approach, which "could be somewhat revolutionary."
Soil Search's technology works at a higher rate of production than other approaches to biomass, said Larry Dickinson, president of the environmental remediation firm that works with dairy farms and other businesses with similar waste disposal issues. Soil Search's method also can be used at operations that employ a flush or scrape scenario for collecting wastes; most traditional biomass digesters rely on tank solids. Most dairy farms, however, use the flush method, he said, which involves flushing a large volume of water to keep surfaces clean. The water is later recirculated, Dickinson said--but the problem then is odor. "With this technology, there is no odor from the flush water. It puts it through a digester system. When it comes back, it's odor-free."
Energy Northwest and Soil Search are looking at three Franklin County dairy farms as potential sites, and expect to make a final decision soon, with construction starting within the next several months. The electricity produced will probably be used to provide power to the farm, Porter said, although such a system eventually could produce up to 1.5 MW.
Energy Northwest will select the equipment used to generate electricity from the methane produced, Dickinson said. He said Soil Search already has 10 micro-turbines on which it has tested its technology, and found it generates considerable energy with small amounts of fuel.
"Using biomass to solve the dairy waste problem cries out to be done," Porter said. "But you must pick a technology that has to be close to market [price]." Customers are willing to pay a premium for green power, but it's still difficult to make biomass economic--even with the avoided costs of environmental remediation. "The operations and maintenance costs will kill you," he said. "You need something simpler" than traditional biomass systems, which he said are usually high-maintenance projects requiring regular attention. Soil Search's technology shows "promise" of low maintenance with low capital investment requirements. "If it works, it could be developed quite economically," Porter said.
He believes biomass "is where wind [power] was 10 years ago."
Both Porter and Dickinson said Soil Search technology can be used with sources of methane other than animal manure. It might also be applicable to municipal waste treatment facilities, Dickinson said.
Energy Northwest expects the demonstration project to cost between $100,000 and $200,000. The agency will monitor the project through the fall, to see how it works. Soil Search is considering extending the demonstration through the winter, to collect data on how it works under cold temperature conditions.--Jude Noland and Mark Ohrenschall
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Mark Ohrenschall's column in the March 27 issue of Con.WEB on ambiguities surrounding two proposed wind farms in central Washington's Kittitas County generated several responses from readers, including the following:
Renewables: A New Challenge
"Thoughtful and evocative essay on Kittitas County. Quick thought on aesthetics--you wonder, 'Maybe those kids playing in the snowbank will grow up as wind energy supporters, or maybe even developers, contributing to a renewable energy future. Maybe they will simply accept wind power. Maybe they won't like it."
As a kid in the California Central Valley, I frequently passed the huge Altamont wind project on the way to weekend visits in the Bay Area. My family and I were always mesmerized by the turbines. They were beautiful and mysterious. Friends and relatives riding along with us would also be typically fascinated by the turbines.
And now I work on renewables.
Of course, my more recently acquired knowledge about our electricity system has influenced my choice of occupation. I understand that we have to develop emissions-free resources. Failing to do so will result in other types of power plants, which have to be located somewhere. The way the system works right now, plants tend to be concentrated in certain regions (e.g., Ohio Valley, Wyoming, the Columbia River)--regions that are often friendly to power plants as a source of economic development.
But renewables pose a new challenge--the resource is more dispersed and impossible to transport by pipeline or train. This means that prime generation sites will be more dispersed, as will be the communities affected by new generation development. It thus raises diverse cultural questions, reflecting the diversity of locations where developers have proposed projects.
As a nation and a culture used to not having to see where our products really come from, we typically are not forced to live with the consequences of our consumption.
In the case of wind, my opinion is that living next to the source of my power is fine. Wind power is attractive and inspiring. But it certainly signifies a significant change in how we organize and locate our nation's production of energy."--Virinder Singh
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Spring reveals transformations all over the natural world, as the days lengthen and the weather fitfully but inexorably moves from winter cold toward summer warmth.
Con.WEB also is transforming this spring--albeit much less dramatically than nature--in the hope of improving offerings for our readers, in all seasons.
Specifically, we are launching new regular features in the categories of people, markets and technology. We are also continuing an increased emphasis on renewable energy and green building, while still closely attending to energy conservation.
In addition, we plan a revamped Links section, a case studies archive, an e-mail discussion forum and marketing initiatives to further spread the word about our newsletter and information resources.
These revisions follow a Con.WEB readership survey conducted in September and October in collaboration with the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, which provides funding support to Con.WEB.
Respondents indicated general satisfaction with our content and format, while sharing a number of ideas for improvements. We and the Alliance also were struck by the professional diversity of our readership, which suggests a broad appeal of Con.WEB but also poses a challenge in meeting disparate information needs.
We heartily thank participating readers. And we encourage all of you, anytime, to share your thoughts. Ultimately, we exist in service to our readers.
The Alliance, which hosted the readership survey on its Web site, counted 268 responses. We interpret this substantial response rate as a positive sign of widespread reader interest in Con.WEB. Alas, 55 responses were deemed invalid, and 47 of the remaining 213 respondents didn't complete all the questions. That suggests the survey was a wee bit long.
Nonetheless, the responses were very illuminating.
The most read, used and valued topic we cover is renewables, by a considerable margin, according to survey results compiled by the Alliance. Slightly more than 30 percent of respondents said they always read renewables articles, 36 percent did so frequently and 28 percent did so sometimes. The next favored subject is market transformation/marketplace. Industrial was considered the least read and used subject (one respondent commented: "You never give industrial projects enough space. That reflects the whole attitude toward the industrial community.") and distributed generation topics were considered the least valuable.
Asked about changes in coverage, respondents offered a laundry list of suggestions, from specific topics to a couple of requests for more brevity. The length and depth of our articles are ongoing considerations, as we navigate the varying information needs of our readers. It's also the reason we initiated the In Brief summary issue 4-1/2 years ago.
About 75 percent of respondents said Con.WEB content was fine in level of detail and length, while 64 percent said we usually or always offered a balance of stories. More than 80 percent said we provided a balance of viewpoints--a heartening finding, given our self-defined niche as an objective information resource for Northwest conservation and renewables. Our Web format also met with general approval among respondents.
However, our overall usefulness rating was quite moderate--a mean 5.7 on a 1-10 scale (with 10 the highest). This leads me to a couple of conclusions.
First, despite an apparent general satisfaction among our readers and a notably upward trend in our Web site hits since the energy crisis, we have plenty of opportunities for improvement.
Second, the survey results confirmed we serve a diverse audience with many interests in energy efficiency and renewables--and thus achieving extremely high usefulness ratings from all of our readers is a difficult challenge, given our configuration as a regionally focused news/information service.
I urge readers to visit our soon-to-be-revamped Links section for a sampling of the myriad other resources available on energy efficiency and renewables. In other words, we can't, and don't, do it all.
Among the general respondent comments were many favorable ("Keep up the excellent work!!" Thanks, Mom!), a few specific suggestions and one frugal individual who wrote, "Can't beat the price." To which I have two replies: 1) Yes, but you get more than you pay for; and 2) Northwest electric customers do contribute financially to Con.WEB, via the Alliance, although each customer's share has many zeros lining the right side of the decimal point.
After mulling these survey results for some time, I concluded we don't need significant changes, but some revisions are in order.
The most noticeable will be regular features in three distinct categories, separate from our monthly news coverage and appearing generally on a rotating basis.
One is people, starting this issue with a story on Cal Shirley, Puget Sound Energy's new director of energy efficiency services. Another is markets, and a third is technology, both of which will debut soon.
The people features will highlight selected individuals (we couldn't possibly cover all of them!) making a difference in the Northwest conservation and/or renewables world. The market and technology features are envisioned as in-depth looks at specific topics.
Reflecting the survey results and our own sense of regional developments, we will continue our expanding coverage of renewable energy--while still paying considerable attention to conservation matters. We will also keep running periodic articles on green building. This topic fared middling in our reader survey, but it represents a burgeoning movement with implications for saving energy and producing it renewably.
We will also keep at hand the coverage ideas suggested by survey respondents, except for those that fall outside our purview (transportation, for example). And we remain well aware of the industrial sector, even after publishing a special industrial conservation series in 2001-2002.
In addition to our monthly newsletter, Con.WEB also provides an extensive archive section of previous stories (indexed by subject) and back issues. This is a very popular feature, judging by our Web site hits, and we encourage readers to use it for research or other purposes. A case studies category is coming in the near future.
And, in an attempt to add more interactivity to our Web-based services, we plan to initiate an e-mail discussion forum later this year.
Finally, we want to spread the word about Con.WEB farther and wider, and you can help. Share articles and issues with your colleagues (remember, you can't beat the price ... !). Tell us about people and organizations you think would benefit from reading Con.WEB--just call or e-mail, and we'll make the contact, if you want. And let us know of other ways we can help more people stay informed on Northwest energy conservation and renewable energy.
Once again, special thanks to those who completed the reader survey, and general thanks to all of our readers. Please stay in touch.--Mark Ohrenschall
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