1) Alliance Adopts Unified Strategy for Residential Market Transformation, Starting with New Construction
2) U.S. Green Building Council Leader Christine Ervin Oversees Fast-Growing Organization
3) Avista Utilities Issues RFP for Energy from 50 MW of Wind Capacity
4) Proposed 100-MW Geothermal Plant Bubbling in Southeastern Idaho
5) Maiden Wind Farm Proposal Generates Dispute over Ground Vibrations
6) Retail Green Power Continues Growth in Northwest, RNP Report Finds, But Market Share Remains Small
7) Cow-Fired Power Projects Mooo-ving Ahead in Northwest
8) News Bytes: Alcoa Funds Solar, BPA Residential Loan Program Grows, Energy Trust Launches Solar/Natural Gas Programs, and More
A story on smart energy networks in the July 16 Con.WEB reported that officials of Bonneville Power Administration's Energy Web program, the city of Milton-Freewater, OR and Energy Northwest were discussing a potential project in which the city's dispatchable load-reduction program could fill in gaps when Energy Northwest's Nine Canyon Wind Project generates less energy than forecast. In fact, Energy Northwest has provided data from the wind farm so BPA could simulate this concept and its economic feasibility, but no commitment for deploying such a project has been made.
Northwest homes are the focus of a new regional market transformation strategy by the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance.
The Residential Sector Initiative, adopted by the Alliance board of directors in late July, provides a framework for Alliance efforts to improve the efficiency of Northwest homes. It covers single-family-home building as well as residential products and services, and it will substantially rely on ENERGY STAR as a unifying brand, plus collaboration with other residential-sector players.
With this strategy the Alliance hopes to "influence the residential market so that consumers increasingly value and purchase energy-efficient products, services and buildings."
New construction is the first specific target under RSI, and a flagship of the entire initiative. A $4.5 million program to spur energy-efficient home building was approved by the Alliance board at its July 21-22 meeting near Red Lodge, MT. It will run through 2005, centering on recruiting and training builders to construct ENERGY STAR-certified homes that exceed Northwest state energy code standards by at least 15 percent. The Alliance also will promote installation of energy-efficient products.
Alliance officials believe circumstances are favorable for this effort, with increasing builder and consumer interest in energy efficiency amid a robust new home construction market. The Alliance forecasts this program could save 210 average megawatts regionally by 2025 and lead to ENERGY STAR homes capturing 85 percent of the market. More stringent energy codes also could result.
Other promising residential energy-saving opportunities await in lighting, space heating and cooling, and major appliances, according to the Alliance.
Residential Sector Initiative
The Alliance board in 2001 developed a Commercial Buildings Initiative as the umbrella for its commercial-sector activities. Residential came next, and a unified industrial program approach is scheduled for next year.
This switch to sector-based tactics is intended to make Alliance programs work more cohesively and efficiently, and to expand market impacts by leveraging more opportunities. It also sets a planning and implementation framework for Alliance ventures.
In the residential area, the Alliance wants to build upon its current efforts. "The Alliance in partnership with utilities in the Northwest have accomplished a great deal in the residential sector in the last few years," said a Residential Sector Initiative document from the program's design stages. Energy-efficient lighting, appliance and window programs "have significantly increased the market shares of those products in the Northwest," the document said. Performance Tested Comfort Systems and Super Good Cents are prime examples of coordinated regional ventures.
In developing the Residential Sector Initiative, the Alliance researched market information and talked with stakeholders, including utilities, government agencies and builders. Also involved was the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which eventually approved optional Northwest ENERGY STAR standards for new homes that exceed regional states' and national efficiency requirements, according to Alliance officials.
Research showed Northwest housing is expected to expand from nearly 5 million units in 2000 to more than 7 million units in 2025, primarily single-family but also from a growing number of multifamily and manufactured dwellings, board member Ken Keating told his colleagues at the Montana meeting.
The Alliance also evaluated potential electricity savings in the residential area, he said, and came up with priorities for new construction, lighting, space heating/cooling and major appliances. Water heating, windows and home electronics are considered "second-tier opportunities."
Regional stakeholders thought ENERGY STAR would be a suitable vehicle for a new construction venture, according to Keating. They also expressed "great interest" in lighting and field services. Some Puget Sound-area officials wanted a focus on energy-efficient lighting fixtures, as a means to guarantee savings, but Keating cited "pretty overwhelming" market transformation hurdles in this category, given the huge disparity in lamps.
ENERGY STAR provides "cohesive branding" for the initiative, said Keating. "The big ENERGY STAR tent can hide, promote, distinguish a lot of products once you have people's attention."
The Alliance also expects to collaborate with other residential-sector entities to stretch the program's overall effectiveness, and to help coordinate national, regional and local programs.
New Construction Program
First up for the RSI is a new home construction program, for which the Alliance board voted with no opposition to authorize $4.5 million through 2005.
The new program will encourage home builders to construct new dwellings to regional ENERGY STAR standards, which exceed Northwest state energy codes by 15 percent in envelope and HVAC requirements, said Alliance project development manager Jeff Harris. "Lighting and appliance pieces are icing on that cake" in added energy savings, he told the board. The Alliance plans to collaborate with manufacturers and suppliers to encourage qualifying energy-efficient products for new homes.
Annual savings for ENERGY STAR homes are estimated at more than 3,700 kilowatt-hours for electrically heated dwellings, compared to code standards, and 1,000 KWh to 1,500 KWh each year for gas-heated homes. ENERGY STAR features will add an estimated $1,100 to $1,800 to the home's initial cost, depending on the heating/cooling system type, according to Alliance projections. An average homeowner should recoup that extra cost in about four years, from lower electric bills.
|(Photo courtesy of Peter Anderson)|
The Alliance plans to recruit and train builders throughout the region on ENERGY STAR measures; HVAC subcontractors will receive separate training and certification on the Performance Tested Comfort System standards. Qualifying homes will be inspected and certified as ENERGY STAR, with third-party oversight of certifications. Also in the works are what Harris called "a series of pre-defined plus packages, to give builders a chance to differentiate among different things" beyond the basic requirements, such as ENERGY STAR laundry and lighting combinations, and green building measures.
This program offers builders a way to distinguish their homes in the marketplace, according to Keating. It also taps into growing awareness of ENERGY STAR (about 60 percent of Northwest consumers know the brand) and increasing interest in sustainable building practices. And, it accommodates residences heated with either natural gas or electricity.
Keating also described some barriers to overcome, including a widespread perception among buyers that all new homes are energy efficient, and the fact builders don't pay heating or cooling bills. Perhaps the biggest hurdle, he said, is a "lack of recognition among financial market actors," such as lenders, real estate agents, appraisers and inspectors.
Utilities can assume local program roles if they choose, including marketing, home inspection, partial funding of training and certification, and financial incentives, according to the Alliance. Utility spending on this program will likely become eligible for Bonneville Power Administration's conservation/renewables rate discount, Keating and Harris said.
Strong utility interest in RSI--"It moved from the coalition of the willing to the horde of the willing," Keating said--led the Alliance to ratchet up the budget to $4.5 million through 2005 and quicken a full-scale implementation. A regional launch is scheduled for 2004. Other energy-related entitites, such as state government agencies and green building interests, also are considered associates in this venture.
The Alliance is bullish on this initiative's market-changing potential throughout the region. Current market share for ENERGY STAR homes is about 5 percent, but the Alliance anticipates a 20-percent market share by 2010, and 85 percent by 2025. "You could say that's outrageous," said Harris, "but 20 years after [Model Conservation Standards were published] in 1983, those measures are included in every new home in the region. 85 percent may not be outrageous."
Increasing market share is "the bottom line" indicator of progress, Harris said. Success could lead to residential energy code upgrades, which would be "the ultimate market transformation standard."
The Alliance forecasts energy savings of 13 aMW by 2010 and 210 aMW by 2025, achieved very cost-effectively. Levelized cost comes to a negative 3.4 cents/KWh, accounting for natural gas and water savings along with electric energy efficiencies over the projected 70-year life of ENERGY STAR homes.
"We've proven we can do it. We've done it before," said Keating, referring to MCS and the Super Good Cents program that eventually led to upgraded residential energy codes. "We think we can do it again. Builders will be key to this. Utility allies will be very helpful. We are going to get private-sector co-investment This is going to be our flagship in the residential sector. It's a core piece."--Mark Ohrenschall
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Christine Ervin likes to debunk the idea that optional standards are ineffective.
She heads the U.S. Green Building Council, whose Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) voluntary rating system has fast become the nation's leading seal of approval for environmentally friendly new commercial construction.
"One thing that really attracted me to the field, and to the Council in particular, is really a sense that we just can't make the kind of progress we need on the environmental front without really strong private-sector leadership and unusual partnerships. Those are very strong characteristics of the Council," said Ervin, the USGBC's Portland-based president and chief executive officer.
"There's often a sense that voluntary, consensus-based standards are somehow weak or lower common denominator. LEED is just the opposite." LEED-qualified commercial buildings must meet criteria in the categories of sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality; credits also are available for innovations.
(Photo courtesy of U.S. Green Building Council)
USGBC membership has jumped from 250 when Ervin took over in 1999 to more than 3,200 today. The number of LEED-certified projects is 63 and growing; a total of 903 projects are registered, according to USGBC. And 5 percent of new commercial construction is using LEED, the Council reports.
"What's happening is we have grown from the true innovators to the early adopters and are beginning to attract more of the mainstream," she said. "We're somewhere in between early adopters and the mainstream."
In a recent interview with Con.WEB, Ervin discussed the increasing prominence of green building and LEED standards, as well as benefit and cost issues, barriers, the role of energy, specific emerging technologies and the Northwest's place as a leading locale for green building.
From Energy to Green Building
Ervin moved from leadership positions in the energy world to USGBC. A former director of the Oregon Department of Energy, from 1991 to 1993, she served as assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Energy's energy efficiency and renewable energy programs from 1993 to 1997.
"I originally became aware of the U.S. Green Building Council and the concept of green building when I was at the U.S. Department of Energy," she said in a July phone interview. "The Council was just a young start-up group," but she was struck by its unusual mission and diverse membership. Before leaving DOE she helped develop Buildings for the 21st Century, integrating efficiency and renewables technologies.
USGBC formed in 1993 with a group of what Ervin termed "the real innovators" in green building. She came on as president/CEO in April 1999, and since then membership has mushroomed by a factor of about 13, with 130-plus new members added each month for nearly the last year. USGBC members hail from a wide range of building-related professions.
"What we are finding increasingly is that companies see this as a hot market, and they don't want to be left out," she said. "We're also seeing interest in the product and manufacturing area. More and more developers of products are wanting to know how their product can be used in LEED-certified buildings." The Council specifies characteristics for LEED criteria, although it does not certify specific products.
Ervin said her near-term goal "is to just keep with up with the strong market demand we are experiencing. That's not a trivial pursuit."
The Council unveiled its inaugural LEED program in spring 2000, for new commercial buildings and major renovations. More than 900 facilities in the United States and several other countries have registered for LEED at the levels of certified, bronze, silver, gold and platinum, which are incrementally based on a 69-point scale, with a minimum of 26 points for certified.
Soon to appear are LEED standards for existing commercial buildings and commercial interiors, both of which have pilot initiatives. A residential version is under initial development, Ervin said.
In addition to its flagship rating system, USGBC offers professional training and accreditation for LEED, and sponsors an annual conference/exposition designed to expand green building into the mainstream building market. The 2004 event is coming to Portland.
Spread of Green Building
Ervin sees a number of factors pushing the spread of green building. "There are so many diverse drivers for this that it becomes a stronger platform."
She recounted a conversation she had with a Perrier official when the mineral water company joined the USGBC in 2001. '"We're interested in having a building that represents our product, a clean, natural product,'" she said the company representative told her.
Green building addresses quality-of-life issues, especially in urban settings, Ervin said. It covers a broad range of environmental topics, with a positive agenda.
It also promises a "major business opportunity," she said. An improved work environment in a green building resonates with employers, she said, given that labor accounts for a large majority of operating costs for many companies. "For a very modest increase in labor productivity, you can reap major benefits over the life of the building," quickly and easily paying for incremental costs of energy-saving features.
She acknowledged this advantage is largely anecdotal, and she urged expanded federal research into "the connections between individual high performance green building features and human behavior We really need to know more about this." People spend most of their lives inside buildings, which consume more than a third of the country's energy resources, she noted. Federal funding on building research is "pitiful" compared to other economic sectors and other countries.
Green Building Barriers
Green building is increasingly practiced, but is not yet standard practice.
"Some of the barriers are very similar to what you find in the diffusion of any new technology or service," said Ervin. "It's information. It's risk-aversion in the face of uncertainty. It's perceived cost."
She notes an emphasis on initial costs, especially among private-sector developers. However, she said, "As a very general rule of thumb, what we are finding is that the LEED certified or silver building need not cost more than a conventional building. Generally, there's some modest increment as you go above that, depending on how aggressive you want to be."
Cost also is influenced by the planning process for a building; the earlier green decisions are made, the better, Ervin said. "If you don't have the opportunity to downsize an HVAC system, for example, you can't take advantage of cost savings. The key is to start early and focus on what's the return on investment."
She also cited uncertainties in ascribing green building costs to particular features. "Part of the challenge that we face is providing more guidance to the market in terms of costs, benefits and what it takes to get a certified building."
Despite its growing popularity, the LEED program itself has received some criticisms. One is the cost and effort to document qualifying projects. Ervin said USGBC has addressed this with a 2.1 version that eliminates paperwork beyond that normally generated during design and construction. Electronic submittals are now available as well, she noted.
Another expressed notion is that LEED, with its checklist approach, discourages really creative thinking. Ervin disagrees, while acknowledging "some validity to it. LEED is a market transformation tool that is going to be evolving. It's always designed to reach the top 25 percent of the market."
She noted LEED does provide credits for innovations, encouraging new ideas. It also addresses some larger issues; for example, a credit for proximity to mass transit helps discourage urban sprawl.
"I never let the perfect get in the way of the great. You always find critics of something like this," said Ervin. "At its simplest, LEED is a checklist. That's exactly the brilliance of LEED in the minds of many practitioners," who previously found it challenging to explain green building to clients. "The simplicity of the checklist is a very effective educational tool something you can use to bring the whole building team around the table, and go through and start thinking, at a very general level, what you want to accomplish. Beyond the checklist, then there is a whole host of materials and options." Designers thus can apply creativity in devising their strategies.
LEED is adaptable elsewhere, too.
Several countries, including China, have shown an interest in licensing LEED, Ervin said. "We're just developing a licensing protocol now to be used in other countries," with flexibilities but also common standards to ensure "a commensurate level of performance. We don't want diluted versions."
In the Northwest, she said, the city of Portland established a local version of LEED with criteria relating to livable communities. Seattle's LEED iteration added a minimum energy efficiency component. "The city of Seattle is a perfect example of a creative approach tailored to local priorities," she said.
Northwest Green Building
The Northwest has evolved into a center of green building activity. Oregon matches California as second among states in number of certified LEED projects, and the Beaver State ranks fourth in registered projects, Ervin said. Many of these are private-sector facilities, she added, refuting the perception of LEED as a public-sector program; overall, 40 percent of square footage of LEED-registered projects are privately owned. Meanwhile, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia account for 16 percent of all registered LEED ventures.
"I think there's a very good showing of the Pacific Northwest," she said. "Part of it is because of the longstanding interest in protecting the environment, and the political culture and a lot of very good professionals who know what they're doing and have very good experience. I think the financial incentives Oregon has come up with have been very important," referring to the state's Business Energy Tax Credit for LEED projects.
Portland's selection to host the 2004 national green building conference/expo reflects local and regional leadership in green building, she said.
Energy and LEED
Ervin, a longtime energy official and a founding board member of the Energy Trust of Oregon, thinks energy plays an important role in LEED. LEED provides up to three points for renewable energy. Some people believe that's too little, she said, but those points can make a difference in whether a project achieves LEED certification.
Some efficiency supporters, meanwhile, think the maximum 10 points for optimizing energy performance beyond ASHRAE/IESNA Standard 90.1-1999 can be enhanced. "Our message to them is that 10 credits out of 69 is significant and can help pay for the other investments. It's still a great opportunity," she said. Organizations such as the Trust will increasingly look to green building as a path to greater energy efficiencies, she believes.
Asked about specific emerging green building technologies, Ervin mentioned green roofs, building-integrated solar photovoltaics and underfloor HVAC systems. Although she declined to name her personal favorite green building(s), she said, "I think some of my favorite buildings do have large quantities of daylighting, and daylighting in really dramatic spaces I think is exciting and very appealing."
Looking ahead, Ervin said one of USGBC's goals is to expand its membership into new sectors.
"What makes green building powerful and effective and cost-effective is having that whole team at the table," she said. "We are now beginning to focus on a couple of related sectors we think are not actively involved and could play a major role. One is the investment community, financiers, the insurance industry." A potential example: reduced insurance premiums for buildings that incorporate green technologies that reduce liability. "That kind of signal, I think, would be really important to the green building industry."
The Council generally plans to stay its course of promoting green building through LEED and its various educational, marketing and policy activities.
"The next step for us is to stay focused on our mission and really meeting the needs of this rapidly growing emerging market," she said. "Also, we want to avoid any temptation of being satisfied with the status quo. This is going to be a rapidly evolving area There has to be a balance between stability that allows a market to become aware and familiar and able to use a product, and matching that with the need to stay dynamic and evolve over time to reflect the best practices."--Mark Ohrenschall
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Avista Utilities has entered the wind power market.
The Spokane-based investor-owned utility has issued a request for proposals for energy from up to 50 megawatts of wind capacity. Avista is seeking a two- to five-year purchase (or purchases) from 2004 to 2008. Bids are due Sept. 15, and the IOU plans a contract award (or awards) by the end of September.
This is Avista's first formal pursuit of wind power, and utility officials view the solicitation as a learning experience. The utility has sufficient energy resources to meet loads through at least 2007, according to its 2003 integrated resource plan, but the IRP contains an action item for continued study of wind integration issues.
"We want to get a feel for how wind would fit into our system," said Clint Kalich, Avista resource planning and analysis manager. Specifically, he told Con.WEB, Avista is interested in finding out the effects and full costs associated with wind integration.
Given the relatively short power purchase period sought in the RFP, "We aren't asking anybody to build [a wind project] for us," he said. "We're hoping we fit into somebody else's puzzle."
The IOU is not specifying potential locations, but Kalich said price--including delivery to Avista's system--will be a "key" consideration in the utility's selection process.
Avista's 2003 integrated resource plan--filed in April with regulatory agencies in Washington and Idaho--shows the utility has sufficient energy resources to serve its eastern Washington and northern Idaho customers through 2007, "even under critical water and adverse hydro and load conditions," Kalich said. "We're in really good shape relative to some of our [utility] peers. We're pretty fortunate we don't have to go out and interact in the marketplace today."
But the IOU is interested in examining wind power. The IRP includes a preferred strategy to acquire power from 75 MW of wind capacity in 2008 to 2010. However, Kalich said, "One of the concerns we have is there's just not a lot of operational experience by utilities in the Northwest system to ensure the assumptions in the IRP as far as [wind] integration costs would really be an accurate representation."
Detailing expenses for bringing wind power into Avista's system is "the ultimate point of this exercise," he said. Transmission costs are "fairly well known," he said, but wind integration costs and effects on the utility system are less clear.
Avista's system load totals about 1,000 average megawatts, Kalich said; 50 MW of wind capacity would translate to an approximate range of 15 aMW to 20 aMW, given the resource's intermittency.
Price, Credit, Location, Other Criteria
Kalich believes wind power bids can compete with current wholesale market prices at the mid-Columbia hub from 2004 to 2008. "I think that's part of the opportunity here," he said. "We think wind may have a shot at that type of a price range, which we're comfortable, then, buying at that [price] level." Avista's IRP projects annual average Northwest wholesale prices of 3.3 cents/KWh in 2004, rising 4.1 percent annually through 2023.
Bid prices, requested in dollars per megawatt-hour, will be "one of the key issues" in Avista's review, he said.
As for where the wind power originates, "Our concern really isn't so much on location as the cost to bring energy to our system," he said. Distant wind farms will clearly be at a disadvantage, he noted.
Creditworthiness of bidders is another "very important" consideration for Avista, "just given today's environment," Kalich said.
Bidders are asked to provide information on pricing structure, power deliveries (location, amount and timing), project location, wind technologies, transmission arrangements, project ownership, permitting, financing, documented wind resources and their own wind backgrounds. "We are asking for the developers to provide up to five projects they've worked with," said Kalich. "That may be difficult for some, but the idea is the more experience you have, the better off we'll be and the better we'll view the proposal."
Avista also is interested in obtaining green tags, the environmental benefits of wind projects.
Although Avista is open to different types of bids within its parameters, Kalich acknowledged the short-range proposed power purchase would be a limiting factor.
"We recognize most people need 20 years to pay these things back," he said. "We're clearly not providing an opportunity for a developer to pay for his project with this RFP." Avista will likely receive bids from the likes of "an existing project or maybe a project another entity might not have a need for a few years from now." Options for wind purchases beyond 2008 are possible, he said, but, "We're really trying to focus on a maximum of five years."
It's "always possible" the utility won't get any bids, but, Kalich said, "We would not have issued the RFP if we didn't think there's an opportunity today."--Mark Ohrenschall
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A proposed geothermal power venture envisioned at 100 megawatts capacity is emerging in southeastern Idaho.
Developer Idatherm hopes to begin producing geothermal electricity by 2005 on a site southeast of Idaho Falls. The company plans to start initial drilling in early 2004, Idatherm exploration manager Carl Austin told Con.WEB, and is optimistic about the prospective geothermal resource based on oil and gas exploration a quarter-century ago that discovered underground fluids at 480 degrees at reachable depths--well above the minimum temperatures needed for viable geothermal power production.
"My view is we have an adequate reservoir and should be able to comfortably handle 100 megawatts," said Austin, who has been engaged in the geothermal business for more than 40 years, including a key role in the 270-MW Coso Geothermal Project in eastern California.
Idatherm officials have discussed the proposal with potential utility and non-utility power buyers, Austin said. "We're not trying to develop a market at this instant. We're just letting people know what we're doing." Warren Weihing of the Idaho Energy Division described Idatherm's proposal as a "very viable project," especially given Austin's geothermal experience and knowledge.
If it reaches full production, Idatherm's project would be the Northwest's largest and possibly its first large-scale geothermal power venture. Another developer, U.S. Geothermal, is working on a southern Idaho project that could start generating power by late 2004 or early 2005 (see Con.WEB, Jan. 30, 2003). That company recently reported production estimates of 14 MW to 17 MW from existing wells at its Raft River site, with ultimate potential as high as 90 MW.
Idatherm's Geothermal Plans
Austin retired and moved to Idaho, but said he saw geothermal development opportunity amid the energy crisis. "The changing marketplace for green power is something that interests utilities now and it's [geothermal] becoming quite economic."
Austin and five others incorporated Idatherm and embarked on a search for potential geothermal sites in the Gem State.
They selected a location in northeastern Bingham County and adjoining Bonneville County where, according to IDWR, American Quesar in 1978 found 480-degree water nearly 13,000 feet underground. "That's something you can work with," said Austin.
Idatherm has leased about six square miles of state and private land in the vicinity, he said. The company plans three new drilling holes. "We expect a rig in there not later than the end of March," operating for about a year. With positive results, he said, "We'd like to build several small units, with the first binary unit or combined-cycle unit online and sending electrons down the wire sometime in 2005."
|Idatherm's proposed geothermal project would be southeast of Idaho Falls.
(Courtesy of visitid.org)
Although Idatherm is not yet actively marketing geothermal power, potential purchasers include Bonneville Power Administration, PacifiCorp, Idaho Power, Idaho Falls Power or "any one of 15 or 20 small outfits," said Austin. "The power could be moved a lot of places." A transmission line from Palisades Dam runs nearby, according to IDWR.
Austin expects to produce power at an "economical" price, but he declined to share details. The U.S. Department of Energy Web site said geothermal prices range from 4 cents per kilowatt-hour to 8 cents/KWh.
"Depending on what we find in those first three drill holes, we will go out and look for the best deal for us, and it has to be a good deal for the state; it's largely state land," Austin said. "And it has to be something that is satisfactory under the law to a utility or individual developer."
Asked whether the project could qualify for mandatory power purchases at an established price under the federal Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA), as allowed in Idaho for projects up to 10 MW, Austin said, "We're looking very carefully at what size we want to be, how far apart things need to be to satisfy the law."
Idatherm hope to complete the project entirely with private capital, he said.
Idatherm plans an air-cooled geothermal project that would consume no groundwater, according to Austin.
An Idatherm environmental contractor has scouted the site, and reported no endangered or threatened species, or wetlands, according to Austin. "At this stage of the game we have seen nothing that we'll run into an environmental difficulty." He described the site as "a very remote, rural area," with a few distant homes and some use by snowmobilers.
"We've had no negative responses from anyone," Austin said.
IDWR's Weihing thinks the Idatherm venture has promise. Although not privy to the project's financial information, he said it takes "a lot of money and a pretty good business plan" to drill 12,000 feet deep. He said Austin "had a viable idea of the resource and he had a viable idea of what it takes to develop that resource. And the third thing, he has done it in California before."
Weihing's conclusion: "He's legit This is a very viable project."
Idatherm also benefits from earlier underground exploration, a lack of which has hampered Northwest geothermal development, according to executive director Karl Gawell of the Geothermal Energy Association, a national trade group. When large companies were looking for geothermal locations in the 1970s, he told Con.WEB, "Nobody really looked at the Northwest. Prices were too cheap for power."
In addition, he said, early geothermal prospectors struck many dry holes in the Northwest because "they misunderstood the geology. There's an overburden layer of rock that distorts your geological signals in the Northwest. Over time we understand it better, but in a lot of the early work people got frustrated and spent money and walked away from it."
Geothermal development requires significant investment in geological studies and other initial activities, he said.
Although not talking specifically about Idatherm, Gawell also said air-cooled projects are preferable in the arid West.
He noted "a lot of potential" for Northwest geothermal power. Expansion of the federal production tax credit to geothermal would help, as would more work in identifying potential sites that don't pose major conflicts.--Mark Ohrenschall
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A dispute over ground vibrations has held up the permit application for the proposed 494-megawatt-capacity Maiden Wind Farm in south-central Washington.
The Benton County Board of Adjustment has sent the application back to the county's planning department to determine whether a supplemental environmental impact statement is needed to determine the facility's impact on nearby seismic scientific research. That decision was still pending as of late August.
Developer Washington Winds had hoped to start construction this summer on what would be, at full planned capacity, the world's largest wind farm. But the Boise-based company needs a county permit to arrange financing and a power purchase agreement, according to president Rick Koebbe.
Bonneville Power Administration has a pre-development agreement with Washington Winds and an option to buy power from up to 400 MW of Maiden capacity, but a BPA official said the agency is not in the market for new wind power.
Nevertheless, "There's plenty of market if we can get our permit," said Koebbe, citing expressed interest in wind power from several large Northwest utilities.
Seismic Researchers Oppose Maiden
Two scientific research organizations that conduct seismic experiments in Benton County, near the proposed wind farm site about 15 miles north of Prosser, have opposed the facility. Officials of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory and Battelle Gravitation Physics Laboratory believe construction and operation of the wind farm would create vibrations that would disrupt their research.
The Benton County Board of Adjustment will decide whether to issue a conditional-use permit to Washington Winds to build and operate the wind farm. After discussing the case at a public meeting Aug. 7, the board sent the application back to the county planning department, which will decide whether a supplemental environmental impact statement is needed to assess the facility's impact on the seismic research.
County planning director Terry Marden told Con.WEB Aug. 21 that a decision was anticipated "in the next few weeks."
In May, the board directed Washington Winds and the two research organizations to negotiate an agreement for coexistence. But negotiations failed.
The dilemma is determining whether the wind farm is--or can be--compatible with the existing occupants of the land, when both sets of projects involve the same level of investment: about $400 million, said Mike Shuttleworth, Benton County senior planner.
"We don't want to have one [project] come in and make the other one unusable," Shuttleworth told Con.WEB.
Washington Winds and BPA conducted preliminary studies on potential impacts the wind facility would have on the research, as part of an environmental impact statement. However, those studies were inconclusive, Shuttleworth said.
Washington Winds--which along with BPA has spent about $1 million on impact studies, including vibration surveys, Koebbe said--has proposed further study. However, the company is reluctant to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on such a study, to have LIGO and Battelle refute the results or find them unsatisfactory, particularly if the study concluded the wind farm would have little or no impact. "There is no end to the amount of study you can do to measure vibration," said Koebbe.
Even if developing the wind farm would have some effect on the research--which involves highly sensitive instruments that detect vibrations deep underground--Washington Winds has argued it is unreasonable for LIGO and Battelle to restrict development in Benton County for the sake of their research.
"It's impossible to stop development in the county, which is what they want," said Koebbe. "You can't drive a truck down the road without them being able to measure it. Their claim that we're causing vibrations is ridiculous; it makes absolutely no sense."
In a July 8 letter to the Board of Adjustment, Washington Winds contended Maiden was unlikely to disturb the seismic research any more than existing power facilities in the vicinity, including the 48-MW-capacity Nine Canyon Wind Project, the 300-MW-capacity Stateline Wind Energy Center, and the 1150-MW-capacity Columbia Generating Station nuclear power plant.
Koebbe said state and federal environmental impact review processes have been completed for Maiden, with "virtually no comments on the final EIS. So we're kind of surprised this process is starting now."
LIGO and Battelle, however, are not the only organizations concerned about Maiden's potential effects. "Washington Winds has not provided adequate assurnace that its turbines would not disrupt research at labs that taxpayers have gone to considerable expense to build and operate," opined the Tri-City Herald newspaper Aug. 19. "Diversifying the nation's energy supply is an important goal, and the Mid-Columbia--home to the world's largest wind farm, not to mention a nuclear plant--certainly is doing its part. But the potential of more wind power is not worth the real cost of losing multimillion-dollar investments."
Markets for Maiden
Financing for the project and a power purchase contract are contingent on the project securing a county permit, Koebbe said.
Bonneville has an option to buy up to 400 MW of Maiden power, but BPA's Tom Osborn said that with BPA's financial predicament and lack of need for new resources, "It's not likely we'd execute the power purchase agreement or execute our option BPA right now is not in a buying mood."
Koebbe sees potential buyers among utilities seeking wind power, including Avista Utilities (see related story) and PacifiCorp. "There's a market in the Northwest," he said.--Cassandra Sweet and Mark Ohrenschall
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[Editor's note: Another story on Northwest retail green power, including utility and other perspectives, is planned for the next issue of Con.WEB.]
Retail green power programs offered by Northwest utilities continued to grow over the past year, according to an annual report from Renewable Northwest Project.
"Powerful Choices IV: A Survey of Retail Green Power Programs in the Pacific Northwest" found the number of such utility ventures grew from 23 last year to 35 now, while total customer participants increased from about 42,000 to more than 59,000 and estimated green power sales climbed 88 percent.
|(Courtesy of Renewable Northwest Project)|
Still, retail green power occupies a very small market niche regionwide. The 35 utilities surveyed for the report had a collective participation rate of 1.4 percent among residential customers eligible to choose green power, and 0.17 percent among commercial customers with a green power option. Total estimated green power sales of 305 million kilowatt-hours (about 35 average megawatts) amount to about 0.001 percent of the region's total load for 2002.
"The key findings are that the programs are still growing and we still have more of a market we can approach," said RNP's Natalie McIntire.
She found it "telling" that premium-priced green power still attracted many new customers despite the lackluster regional economy and many utility rate increases. "That's one of the things that we want to be able to use with policymakers and with the utilities: 'Look, your customers are telling you something. They are voting with their pocketbooks here,'" McIntire said.
Despite the overall rise in regional green power, seven utilities reported a decline in participant numbers from 2002 to 2003, and another eliminated its program. Meanwhile, the increase in green power kilowatt-hour sales, while substantial, also fell short of the percentage increases recorded the previous two years.
And, Northwest green power numbers remain dominated by two large investor-owned utilities, PacifiCorp and Portland General Electric, which together account for about 77 percent of regional green power sales and nearly two-thirds of total customer participants.
Green power products for the programs are diverse, the report outlines, although wind power is the predominant underlying resource, according to McIntire.
Northwest Green Power Numbers
The numbers keep trending upward for Northwest retail green power ventures, which RNP defines as "any program that allows customers to choose to purchase energy from an environmentally preferred power source or to contribute to the development of new renewable resources." Green power resources include wind, solar, geothermal, low-impact hydro and low-emission biomass.
A total of 35 Northwest utilities currently offer retail green power--12 more than in 2002, according to RNP. State legislation has spurred development of these programs. A 2001 Washington law requires all utilities with more than 25,000 meters to offer green power; all 16 such utilities now do so, the report said. Oregon's electric industry restructuring legislation mandated renewable energy options for PGE and PacifiCorp customers, and a 2003 Montana law obliged NorthWestern Energy to provide a green power program for its default customers.
All six major Northwest IOUs now offer green power, as do 29 publicly owned utilities ranging in size from large Puget Sound municipals to small Montana cooperatives.
"Powerful Choices" listed total Northwest customer participants at more than 59,000, a jump of more than 17,000 customers from 2002. McIntire cited expanded marketing by Washington utilities and a $1 per block price drop in PacifiCorp's Blue Sky program as notable contributors to this growth.
Portland General leads Northwest utilities in total participants, with 22,266, RNP found. PacifiCorp ranked second, with 15,505 Oregon and Washington green power customers. Puget Sound Energy is third, with 7,434. These three investor-owned utilities have enrolled about 75 percent of the region's total green power customers. Eugene Water & Electric Board ranks highest in Northwest public power, with 2,200 participants.
RNP also documented increased green power sign-ups in both the residential and commercial sectors since 2002--40 percent and 41 percent growth, respectively. McIntire thinks utilities are focusing more on selling green power to business customers.
Residential customer participation averages 1.4 percent among the 35 utilities, for those customers with a green power choice. Orcas Power & Light Cooperative leads the region in this category, at 4.9 percent, followed by Peninsula Light Co. (about 3.6 percent), PGE (3.3 percent) and Central Electric Cooperative (3.1 percent).
Pacific County PUD ranks highest in commercial customer participation, at slightly more than 1 percent. EWEB comes in second at 0.75 percent, while Orcas and Peninsula Light are both at 0.62 percent.
Estimated annual kilowatt-hours sold through Northwest retail green power programs have risen exponentially, from 23.5 million KWh in 2000 to 47.1 million KWh in 2001 to 162.9 million KWh in 2002 and 305.4 million KWh in 2003.
The 2002 introduction of 100-percent renewables products from PGE and PacifiCorp have boosted sales, McIntire said. "It adds a large amount of kilowatt-hours purchased," compared to utilities offering green power blocks.
As for the lower sales growth rate from 2002 to 2003, compared with the previous year, McIntire said there were fewer new programs introduced, many of them from smaller utilities.
Though growing, retail green power has yet to capture a sizable share of its potential Northwest market.
"We know that these programs don't have a huge participation rate at this point," said McIntire. Twenty-two programs had signed up fewer than 1 percent of their residential customers, the report found, while only four utilities exceeded 3 percent participation.
McIntire emphasized the growth rate as well the energy implications: regional green power sales roughly equal the output of 106 1-MW-capacity wind turbines.
"I think we're shooting to get above 5 percent [customer participation]; it would be great if we got to 10 percent on a program basis," she said. "We know that some of the key marketers have that as a goal." She acknowledged uncertainty over how long it might take to achieve those numbers.
More green power participation is likely as the economy picks up, McIntire predicted, particularly among those who are not strong environmentalists. The next frontier for green power marketing is connecting with more general audiences, she said, by focusing more on the economic benefits and rate stability of renewables, not just their environmental pluses.
Green Power Products, Resources
"Powerful Choices" includes a brief outline of each utility program, revealing some general regional trends.
Blocks--most commonly 100-KWh apiece--are by far the most popular green power product, sold by 27 of the 35 utilities. Other programs offer green power on a percentage usage basis or solicit donations/contributions of specified or unspecified amounts.
Premiums range from $1 to $5 per month for different sized blocks. Specified donations/contributions vary from $2.50 to $100 extra, and percentage usage programs charge according to differing criteria.
Green power for these programs comes from numerous sources, notably Bonneville Environmental Foundation, Bonneville Power Administration, Stateline and Nine Canyon wind projects, and regional landfill-gas plants.
Most of the programs ultimately derive most of their resources from wind, according to McIntire. "Wind tends to be the least expensive of the renewable resources," she said. "To get a number of people to sign up, it's helpful to keep the price low."
"Powerful Choices", prepared by Daniel Etra, provides five recommendations for utilities:
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Cow-fired power is gaining moooo-mentum around the Pacific Northwest.
Portland General Electric has been dabbling with cow manure-derived biogas power since March 2002, and is exploring another project with the Energy Trust of Oregon. The Port of Tillamook Bay in northwestern Oregon is building a dairy biogas plant, as is Energy Northwest. A feasibility study for this energy resource has been completed in Washington's eastern King County, and another is in progress for the Tulalip Tribes in neighboring Snohomish County.
Energy generation from dairy biogas presents a number of economic and environmental advantages.
For one, the fuel is abundant: One 1,000-pound lactating dairy cow can excrete 80 or more pounds of manure per day, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates. Microbial anaerobic digestion of this manure produces methane-rich biogas suitable for power generation; one dairy cow can generate 4 kilowatt-hours of electricity per day.
Anaerobic digesters keep methane out of the atmosphere, reduce polluted agricultural runoff, lessen odors and generate useful by-products.
Portland General Electric's Joe Barra called Northwest biogas "a growth opportunity for renewable energy."
However, high capital costs and financing can be hindrances to developing commercial dairy biogas energy projects. Energy Northwest estimates a federally subsidized energy cost from this resource of 6 cents/KWh to 7 cents/KWh.
Northwest Dairly Biogas Ventures
Portland General Electric's 100-kilowatt-capacity dairy biogas plant began operating in March 2002 at Cal-Gon Farms near Salem, which has 400 milking cows, said Barra, PGE's distributed resources manager. "At this point, it's a demonstration project. We have spent a lot putting in a lot of features to see what works and what doesn't," Barra said.
The Cal-Gon digester is not economical today, but PGE hopes to develop a "commercial model" for biogas plants producing electricity costing 5.5 cents/KWh to 6 cents/KWh. One incentive encouraging PGE's investments in dairy biogas is Oregon's Business Energy Tax Credit, which provides a 35-percent state tax credit for qualifying biomass projects.
Other Northwest entities are testing dairy biogas. PGE and Energy Trust of Oregon are exploring a proposed 4.1-MW-capacity plant at Three-Mile Farms near Boardman, a huge dairy with 18,000 animals. The plant could produce an estimated 3.85 average megawatts, "an extraordinarily high capacity factor," said Peter West, Energy Trust's director of renewable resources.
The Trust is optimistic the proposed $16 million project is tantalizingly close to being economically viable. "They came to us with a cost/revenue gap of $1.5 million, an extra cost of 0.6 to 0.9 cents per kilowatt-hour above PGE's avoided cost," West said. That estimate assumes a new federal production tax credit for dairy biogas projects, he added.
This project is on hold while Energy Trust and PGE await design changes aimed at cutting costs, West said.
Elsewhere in Oregon, the Port of Tillamook Bay is building an 800-KW-capacity plant and will sell the power to Tillamook PUD, port manager Jack Crider said. Two of the four production cells were completed in August, and the remaining two should be finished next March. The facility will be capable of digesting manure from 4,000 cows at eight Tillamook-area dairies.
Energy Northwest is building a demonstration plant that potentially could produce 2 MW to 3 MW from manure supplied by the 5D Farms dairy, 15 miles north of Pasco in southeastern Washington. The demonstration plant is expected to be running by fall.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Energy is funding a Tulalip Tribes feasibility study of a digester serving dairies in Snohomish County. King County's Department of Natural Resources and Parks released a study in June concluding that a 1.5-MW centralized digester serving small dairies on eastern King County's Enumclaw Plateau would be financially feasible. The technology is proven, the project helps dairy farmers deal with critical manure management issues, and the electricity has renewable attributes and greenhouse gas reduction credits that could be monetized, the study said.
Environmental Resource Recovery Group of Kansas prepared the study, which had sponsorship from Puget Sound Energy, Seattle City Light, Bonneville Environmental Foundation, King Conservation District and the Washington State University Cooperative Extension Energy Program.
"We have about 30 dairies on the Enumclaw Plateau and about half have shown interest in the project," said Rick Reinlasoder, county livestock program specialist.
As of 2002, 40 digester systems were operating on U.S. farms, according to AgStar, a biogas partnership program run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Twenty-nine of the 40 systems were operating at dairies, and the remainder at swine and poultry farms. Thirty-five of the systems produced the annual equivalent of 4 MW of electricity and heat, AgStar estimated.
Digesting Digester Technology
There are two main types of anaerobic digesters, according to a briefing from the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
Continuous flow digesters are fed regularly, producing a steady stream of gas. In a batch process, waste is loaded and allowed to digest. Once digestion is complete, the effluent is removed and the digester is reloaded.
This form of energy generation from dairy biogas offers compelling benefits, according to officials involved with Northwest projects.
Raw material for fuel production is abundant. The number of dairy cattle in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana exceeds 650,000, according to figures from state agriculture departments.
Digesting the daily manure excreted by 1,000 cows weighing 1,000 pounds each can produce 36,000 cubic feet of methane, the California Energy Commission has estimated. An engine-driven generator with a heat rate of 14,000 British thermal units per KWh could produce nearly 2.6 megawatt-hours of electricity per day from the output of 1,000 cows, CEC said.
Dairy biogas contains anywhere from 55 percent to 70 percent methane, PGE's Barra said.
Digesters can keep methane, a potent greenhouse gas, out of the atmosphere. "Methane is currently emitted from anaerobic lagoons and from land application of animal manure," the King County study said. Liquid-based manure management systems, such as lagoons, account for 80 percent of U.S. methane emissions from animal wastes, according to an EPA estimate. Installation of digesters at all U.S. farms where they would be cost-effective would prevent 426,000 tons of methane emissions, EPA said.
In addition, the digestion process produces two salable by-products: a solid organic fertilizer suitable for potting soil and a nitrogen-rich liquid fertilizer that can be applied to cropland, the King County study said.
"Ultimately, the (solid fertilizer) could be very high value. It could be as high-value as the electricity," Barra said. The liquid fertilizer is much more usable as a plant nutrient than unprocessed cattle manure, he added.
The digestion process transforms organic forms of nitrogen into mineralized forms that plants take up more readily, according to a study of a digester operating at the Haubenschild Farms in Minnesota, about 40 miles north of Minneapolis. The Minnesota Project, a non-profit organization, prepared the study.
Digesters also could help dairy farmers deal with increasingly stringent manure management requirements designed to prevent cattle waste from polluting water sources with nutrients and pathogens, the King County study said.
Dairies on the Enumclaw Plateau are "constrained by waste restrictions. Land for agronomic application of lagoon effluent is limited. Waste is being applied to land (dairies) do not own or control, just to get rid of it," the study said.
Crider said the Port of Tillamook Bay's digester will kill 98 percent to 99 percent of the pathogens found in dairy cattle manure.
Odor control is another benefit. "If I can get rid of my manure, it will save me a lot on pumping, cut down on the smell, and keep my neighbors happy," said Troy Wallin, owner of the Troy Wallin dairy on the Enumclaw Plateau, which has about 250 milking cows.
"The key is the funding. Once that is figured out, we'll get rolling," Wallin said.
Capital Cost, Financing Barriers
High capital costs and financing can be barriers to developing commercial dairy biogas energy projects.
Energy Northwest's initial estimates showed the joint operating agency could build a digester producing power costing $60/MWh to $70/MWh, assuming a small federal production incentive payment, said Stan Davison, Energy Northwest's biomass program manager.
Davison said Energy Northwest used a variety of fuel cost assumptions, ranging from paying dairy farmers $50,000 to $75,000 per year to taking the manure off farmers' hands for free. "We tested the water with our member utilities," he said. "Some said they were kind of interested at $60 to $70, but none of them jumped up and down and said, 'Ooh boy, build me one of those.'"
Energy Northwest's demonstration plant will try a waste lagoon treatment technology developed by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and licensed by Soil Search of Kennewick, WA, Davison said (see Con.WEB, April 29, 2003).
Energy Northwest hopes the technology will help drive down the cost of power to the mid-$40/MWh range. The agency's benchmark is its Nine Canyon Wind Project, which produces power for $37 per megawatt-hour with a production incentive payment, $52 per MWh without. Energy Northwest's capital budget for the demonstration plant is $300,000.
Capital costs of the Haubenschild digester in Minnesota totaled $355,000. The farm's owners encountered obstacles obtaining financing from traditional lenders, the Minnesota Project study said. Nearly 80 percent of the capital costs were covered by grants and zero-interest loans from state and federal agencies, with the owners putting up the remainder.
The Haubenschild digester, handling waste from 750 animals, produced 1 MWh of electricity in 2001, valued at $81,000, the Minnesota Project study estimated. About half the power was used to cover the dairy's energy load and the surplus was sold to East Central Energy, a local electric cooperative
The study calculated a simple payback of five years for the project, based on actual 2001 results. East Central Energy's support for the project, however, has been a critically important factor in the digester's financial performance, the Minnesota Project said. The co-op pays the farm the full retail rate of 7.3 cents/KWh for surplus electricity, the study pointed out, cautioning "many digester projects have had a difficult time interconnecting and selling electricity to their utility companies."
The 135-KW-capacity Haubenschild generator ran at a 98.8-percent capacity factor in 2001, consuming 70,000 cubic feet of gas and generating 2,970 KWh of electricity daily. Energy production per cow averaged 4 KWh per day, the study estimated.
The Port of Tillamook Bay's project will cost $2.5 million, port manager Crider estimated. Of that amount, federal grants are covering $1.7 million and the port is paying the remainder. Crider said the estimated costs work out to 4 cents/KWh. Tillamook PUD will buy the energy for 4.5 cents/KWh.
Enumclaw Plateau dairies lack the financial wherewithal to put up significant capital for a digester, the King County study said. "Milk producers in King County have been under severe financial strain for an extended period and are very short on cash," the study noted. The study described a number of ownership options for an Enumclaw Plateau digester, including a dairy co-op, utility, government agency and third-party investors.
Biogas energy's spinoff products and environmental attributes will be essential for making an Enumclaw Plateau digester financially attractive, the King County study said.
A $7.6 million capital investment in a digester capable of handling 41 tons of waste per day could produce $2 million in annual gross income, the study estimated. Sale of 10,386 MWh of energy, priced at $35/MWh, would account for only 18 percent of the income.
The balance of estimated annual gross income, according to the study, includes $187,000 from a federal production tax credit; $207,000 in "green tags," the environmental attributes of renewable energy for which customers are willing to pay extra; $154,000 in carbon credits; $243,000 in user fees charged to dairy farmers; $731,000 from sales of more than 36,000 tons of solid organic fertilizer; and $134,000 from sales of nearly 1.7 million gallons of liquid organic fertilizer.
With net revenues of $1.1 million, the project would have an internal rate of return of 14 percent, for a payback over eight years at 4-percent interest, the study estimated.--Jim DePeso
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This News Bytes section features a potpourri of items involving renewable energy and green power, utilities, public-purposes funding, awards and more.
|Proposed Idaho wind farm site.
(Courtesy of Windland)
PUBLIC PURPOSES FUNDING
(Photo by Mark Ohrenschall)
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