The Oregon renewable energy map from the Renewable Northwest Project shows major wind, solar, wave and geothermal projects around the state. Renewable Northwest is composed of environmental and consumer organizations, as well as for-profit companies working in the renewable energy sector.
Sustainable Utility Power in Oregon
Oregon’s legislature passed a law in 2007 that requires utilities to get at least 25 percent of Oregon’s power from renewable sources by 2025. For 10 years beginning March 2002, through Oregon’s Renewable Resource Programs, Portland General Electric (PGE) and Pacific Power customers pay a 3 percent charge on their monthly bills for conservation and renewable resource programs under Oregon’s electric industry restructuring law. About 17 percent of the funds, estimated at $10 million to $13 million per year, are for projects that generate electricity from renewable resources. The Energy Trust of Oregon administers the funds. Its goal for renewable resources is that they supply 10 percent of the state’s electricity needs by 2012, an eight-fold increase.That goal has been largely attained.
The U.S. is on a trajectory to generate 20% of the nation’s electricity from wind energy by 2030. Wind and solar can (potentially) be cheaper than hydro, nukes or coal, but renewables have more variables (like sun and wind) and can’t store power (like a dam), or deliver on-demand power (like fossil fuel, hydro or nuclear).
The U.S. spends about $1 billion a day importing oil, which is now over $100 a barrel, according to Energy Secretary Steven Chu. The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) announced a $130 million to fund breakthrough energy technologies in five categories.
The Northwest is an energy exporter. The Bonneville Power Administration was created in 1937 to market electric power from the region’s dams. BPA owns and operates approximately 75 percent of the high voltage transmission lines in the Pacific Northwest. Bonneville’s headquarters are in Portland. It’s one of four regional Federal power marketing agencies within the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
Is it Safe?
The Pacific AC Intertie is the AC portion of the California-Oregon Transmission link. Three 500 kilovolt AC lines go southward through the Central Valley of California. Depending on seasonal conditions, the Intertie is capable of transmitting up to 7,900 megawatts — 4.8 Gigawatts AC and 3.1 Gigawatts DC (pdf).
The U.S. electric grid is a complex network of independently owned and operated power plants and transmission lines, explains NPR. Aging infrastructure, combined with a rise in domestic electricity consumption, has forced experts to critically examine the status and health of the nation’s electrical systems.
Still, dependence on inter-ties could have security issues. A sophisticated sniper attack in April at PG&E’s Metcalf power substation in San Jose, used AK-47s and blasted 17 transformers and 6 circuit breakers, causing $15.4 million in damage. It connects to Path 15, an 84-mile portion of the north-south power transmission corridor in California that forms a part of the Pacific AC Intertie to Bonneville in the Northwest.
The WSJ describes how the US electric grid works. A federal analysis indicated that a coordinated terrorist strike on just nine key electric transmission substations could cause cascading power outages across the country in each of the nation’s three synchronized power networks.
Bonneville’s 500kv Keeler substation is critical infrastructure feeding Intel and huge data centers. Landlords now price data center deals using power as a yardstick, with megawatts replacing square feet as the primary benchmark.
The electric grid could become a more common terrorist target. We’ve got lots of juice and terminate transpacific cable.
A magnitude 9 earthquake could be a bigger threat, disrupting vital services and utilites throughout the area. The immediate disruption in Portland from a subduction zone earthquake may be small compared to the longer term effects on infrastructure. The Utility of the Future is distributed, according to an MIT study.
BPA operates three quarters of the high voltage transmission systems in the Northwest. Today, the Northwest has an opportunity to capture significant cost savings through an Energy Imbalance Market which maintains moment-to-moment balance between electricity supply and demand on the grid, sharing power between utility regions. Northwest utilities are still studying such an energy market, reports The Oregonian. Currently most of the areas wind farms and fossil fuel use the federal dams for balancing, but their reserve power is diminishing.
Power companies are provided with incentives by the federal government to get off coal and gas, often used to generate electricity. More sustainable alternatives, such as solar or wind are viewed as beneficial to the country’s long term economic health. Dams are excellent power generators, but the Columbia River is nearly tapped out. Fishing issues and river transportation are also problematic.
The Dalles Dam, constructed by the federal government in 1957, is one of the largest “renewable” energy sources. It produces close to 1,800 megawatts of hydro power. Bonneville Dam, 40 miles east of Portland, has a capacity of 1.2 Gigawatts. The Grand Coulee Dam is the largest electric power-producing facility in the United States and fifth largest producer of hydroelectricity in the world (2008), producing 6.8 Gigawatts.
PGE serves over 800,000 customers within their 4,000-square mile service territory PDF, including 52 Oregon cities. They offer a variety of renewable energy options including a Clean Wind renewable power program.
Currently, PGE purchases 35 percent of its power from outside providers and generates the balance from coal (22 percent), natural gas (18 percent), hydro (17 percent) and wind and solar (eight percent). The company generates about 11 percent of its power load with renewable energy and will drive that to 15 percent when the Tucannon River Wind Farm in Eastern Washington comes online next year. The $500 million project will have an installed capacity of 267 MW, making it PGE’s second-largest renewable project.
Pacific Power provides power to 1.7 million customers in six Western states, with 555,000 customers in Oregon. Their parent, PacifiCorp, is a wholly owned subsidiary of MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company.
Columbia Steel, near St Johns, is one of Pacific Power’s biggest customers and purchases a portion of their electricity under their “Blue Sky” program. According to Columbia Steel, the 75,000 kilowatt hours per month obtained this way is the equivalent carbon offset of 1,137,666 car-miles not driven — roughly equal to 12.5 miles per day for 350 employees.
The Northwest Power Act of 1980 called on the Northwest to give energy conservation top priority, since a megawatt saved is the equivalent of a megawatt earned (elsewhere). The Bonneville Power Administration is now launching their Post-2011 Energy Efficiency program.
Reducing dependency on foreign oil is a major thrust. Attracting innovative new businesses with growth potential and good jobs is another motivator.
A giant ring of bulk substations surrounds Portland and Vancouver so that power delivery is redundantly supplied – power can circle to the customer in either direction. This ring consists of 10 Bulk Power Substations that create 115 KV Transmission Feeds to about 90 Distribution Substations.
The Federal Department of Energy, the State of Oregon and Portland aim to provide leadership in “green energy” and become a hub for sustainable innovations. Oregon is an energy exporter, tied into the grid through Bonneville. We also have lots of wind in the Gorge, Pacific Ocean waves, semi-conductor expertise for solar, and lots of scrap wood for cellulosic ethanol fuel.
Unlike most states, Oregon generates abundant electricity from sustainable resources. It also exports a lot of electricity to California and other states. That makes transitioning to electric cars a good fit for Oregon and brings energy dollars home, rather than going overseas.
The world could be dependent on “dirty, insecure and expensive” energy by 2030, warns the International Energy Agency, especially if it relies on coal to produce electric power. They believe efficiency is the best policy while wind has the best shot for sustainable energy growth.
NEXT: Wind Farms in Oregon