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Monthly Archives: Sep 2015

August Was an All-Renewables Month for New U.S. Energy Infrastructure

It still trails fossil fuels by a long shot, it’s an intermittent resource, it’s just one month, it’s even happened before – yeah, all the caveats apply. Still, this tells you something about the evolving U.S. energy picture: In August, 100 percent of the 487 megawatts of new utility-scale* electrical generation projects to come online use renewable sources.

Wind accounted for 249 MW and solar 238 MW, according to the August Energy Infrastructure Update from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. For the year so far, wind, solar and scattered other renewables have combined to provide 3,675 of the 6,211 MW of new generating capacity. Here’s the FERC chart (the PDF for the whole monthly report is here):


*FERC doesn’t count behind-the-meter (aka distributed) generation, which leaves out all the rooftop solar that’s going in. This is a lot of capacity, and a lot of generation, as I explored in this article.

WindFloat Pacific: What’s This About ‘Secret’ Meetings?

The Portland Tribune is kicking up a little dust regarding the WindFloat Pacific Offshore Wind Advisory Committee that Gov. Kate Brown is putting together. This is the body that the Oregon governor hopes will find a way to keep the offshore wind project on course to receive crucial federal funding and ultimately be built off Coos Bay.

As a demonstration project, WindFloat Pacific power is likely to be pricey – the idea is that the cost would drop on subsequent, scaled-up projects – and the state is looking to help the developer find a buyer. As I reported in June, backers of the project failed to get a bill through the Oregon Legislature that would have required the state’s two big investor-owned utilities, Pacific Power and Portland General Electric, to purchase WindFloat’s output.

So now the Trib reports that the WindFloat committee won’t meet publicly, and suggests this goes against the new governor’s pledge to be ultra-transparent in the Post-Kitz Era. It’s a reasonable point, but I will note that there was a public hearing on the WindFloat bill last April, and as far as I can tell, the Trib didn’t think that was important enough to write a story about it. Also, the governor’s committee won’t have any real power – it’s just going to try to come up with a plan. That plan would then likely need to be acted on by the legislature and/or the Public Utilities Commission, in which case all kinds of vetting could unfold.

Still, public discussion of public policy, that sort of makes sense, right? The only issue I can see is WindFloat is already behind schedule – the developers are asking the feds for a one-year extension on the project timetable – and a new layer of public meetings runs the risk of dragging out the search for a solution. But that’s where leadership comes in. Brown was AWOL on this issue this past spring. Maybe with some focused action now, she can shepherd a process that is open and speedy and delivers this project to Oregon.


Proposed Oregon Offshore Wind Farm Downsizing

No surprise here: The proposed U.S.-backed Oregon floating offshore wind project is downsizing in a bid to get built.

WindFloat Pacific is in line for nearly $50 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to help build a project about 20 miles off the coast at Coos Bay. The plan was for a five-turbine, 30-megawatt project.

But as I reported exclusively in June, WindFloat Pacific backers failed to get a bill through the Oregon Legislature that would have required the state’s two big investor-owned utilities, Pacific Power and Portland General Electric, to buy WindFloat’s above-market-price output. That put the project at risk of losing its crucial DOE funding.

Principle Power’s Kevin Banister, the point man for the project in Oregon, had suggested that downsizing might be the best way to make the project more palatable to the Oregon Legislature and/or Oregon utilities – and now Banister is making that official.

“We’re saying now it’s an up to a 24MW project,” Banister told Recharge News. “It became clear to us that for a demonstration-scale project 30MW was a little bigger than the appetite in the state.” The developer is also asking the DOE for an extra year to move the project along. It had hoped to be in operation in 2017.

Late last month, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced formation of a WindFloat Pacific Offshore Wind Advisory Committee that will try to come up with a power purchase arrangement for the project.


Oregon Slashes Wave Energy Budget

m3 deployment danko

M3 wave device test deployment off Oregon, September 2014. Photo by Pete Danko.

The state legislature has gutted funding for the organization that made Oregon the focal point for a nascent wave energy industry in the United States over the past eight years.

The state-backed Oregon Innovation Council, known as Oregon InC, had been set to hand over $1.5 million to the Oregon Wave Energy Trust, which received nearly $2 million in the 2013-15 budget and around $12 million total since 2007. But the legislative subcommittee that holds the purse strings came through with a mere $250,000 for OWET in its 2015-17 budget report.

Is it a death knell for the state’s ocean energy ambitions?

“It could be interpreted as a statement that Oregon is pulling back on ocean energy,” OWET Executive Director Jason Busch said in an interview this week. “But that would be wrong. We’re going to be limited in what we can do, but we’re still going to do everything we can to advance ocean energy’s future in Oregon, and we’re going to succeed.”

Ocean energy – which includes wave, tidal stream and, counterintuitively, even river energy – is mostly an afterthought in climate change and renewable energy circles, a distant hope at best, too not-ready, too expensive, obscured in the here and now by wind and solar.

But it’s long been viewed differently in Oregon.

Wave energy in particular has been seen as an opportunity, perhaps not for massive amounts of energy in the cheap-electricity state, but for jobs in the R&D, manufacturing and testing of devices that could be deployed fairly soon in places like Hawaii, Alaska, island nations and even Europe, where the high cost of energy gives wave an opening.

Busch said OWET can still perform meaningful work toward that vision, primarily by driving development of a regional organization in support of ocean energy, with Alaska, Washington, Hawaii and California – and even British Columbia – joining Oregon in the Pacific Ocean Energy Trust.

“Hawaii wants wave energy, Alaska wants hydrokinetic energy of all sorts, California is very interested – I’ve long thought that leveraging the region’s political and economic power would be the way to accelerate investment,” Busch said.

Busch is confident that even as most deployments ultimately go elsewhere, Oregon will be the place to design, build and test devices. He noted that of the three utility-scale deployments planned for a test center offshore from Marine Corps Base Hawaii Kaneohe Bay, at least two of the devices will be built in Oregon.

That’s just one sign of OWET’s success, Busch said. Another: $31.5 million in federal and private investment in ocean energy in the state.

But OWET took a hit when a widely publicized project it backed, a planned grid-connected array by the New Jersey-based company Ocean Power Technologies, off the coast at Reedsport, succumbed to technical and financial woes, leaving a giant wave energy converter sitting in a Portland shipyard, undeployed,

The Reedsport project might have produced only 1.5 megawatts of power at full capacity, but it also would have signaled progress in a way that legislators could comprehend. Instead, they saw what looked like failure.

The chance for a big win for Oregon is still possible, however – the U.S. Department of Energy is aiming to back a grid-connected wave energy test facility capable of plugging in several utility-scale devices and even arrays of devices. The Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center at Oregon State University is the frontrunner for the project in a face-off with a California proposal.

Will OWET’s budget bludgeoning send a signal to the DOE that Oregon is backing off on wave energy?

Busch said that was anyone’s guess, but added that he delivered a go-for-it-or-go-home message last week to the Oregon Coast Economic Summit [PDF], hosted by the Coast Caucus of the Oregon Legislature.

“I had one goal there – to get the state of Oregon to recognize the opportunity, to understand the benefits, and to understand how close we are to losing it if we do not speak as a common voice,” Busch said.

In practical terms, that could mean a commitment from the legislature in its short session next year to come up with the matching funding – at least $5 million, perhaps as much as $10 million –  that the DOE would require from the winner of the test center.