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Green Energy

Mark Ohrenschall
Con.Web, March 27, 2003

Northwest Technology Companies Target Utility Voltage Control

Washington Could Meet Load Growth through 2015 With Renewables, Efficiency, Study Says Renewable energy and energy conservation resources could furnish all of Washington state's projected electric load growth over the next dozen years, according to a new study.

The WashPIRG Foundation assessment found "huge untapped potential" for renewables and efficiency in the Evergreen State, enough to meet the 2,000 average megawatts additional demand forecast by 2015. Washington wind farms could reasonably add 1,260 aMW by that year, and cost-effective energy savings could shrink expected demand by 1,160 aMW.

"We were trying to address the contention a lot of people have that because Washington is so dependent on hydropower there's not a lot of potential for a significant amount of our load to be provided by renewables," said study co-author Robert Pregulman, executive director of Washington Public Interest Research Group (WashPIRG). Renewables and efficiency combined could "easily" meet the state's growing power needs through 2015, he said.

Benefits of this approach include reduced pollution, energy diversity, increased power reliability and economic growth, according to the study. To achieve the potential, WashPIRG Foundation recommended statewide conservation/renewables standards, more tax credits for energy efficiency, denial of permits to any more natural gas-fired power plants, an end to subsidies for natural gas and coal production, and policies supporting additional local control on energy issues.

The study was released in mid-February, as the Washington Legislature was considering an energy portfolio standards bill. Pregulman said he finds it "very disappointing in Washington that some lawmakers don't understand the importance and the potential that wind energy has, and the fact it is extremely cost-competitive with natural gas," especially as gas prices rise.

Renewables, Efficiency Potential
Hydropower leads Washington's current power generation sources, at 70 percent, according to the WashPIRG Foundation study, citing figures from the Northwest Power Planning Council. Natural gas accounts for 14 percent, coal 8 percent and nuclear 5 percent. Biomass contributes 2 percent and wind and fuel oil both supply 0.5 percent.

Natural gas-fired plants completely dominate the category of under construction and permitted Washington resources, with 2,536 aMW out of 2,643 aMW total.

"Washington has another option," the study said. "The state has excellent renewable energy resources and has been very successful in the past with its conservation and energy efficiency strategies. Washington could meet all electricity demand growth through 2015--2,000 average MW--with wind power and energy conservation alone."

Washington's "enormous wind potential" has been estimated by sources including Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Renewable Energy Atlas of the West and the Tellus Institute.

"We project that Washington wind developers could complete the 405 MW of wind projects currently in development by 2004, then add wind power capacity at an annual growth rate of 20% through 2010 and 15% thereafter," wrote Pregulman and co-author Brad Heavner. This pace, which falls below U.S. annual wind capacity growth in 1999 through 2001, would bring the state's wind capacity to 3,802 MW by 2015, capable of generating 1,255 aMW, the study said.

Solar electricity potential in Washington amounts to 4,800 MW capacity, according to WashPIRG, from Renewable Energy Atlas of the West figures. If the state meets its proportional share of the Million Solar Roofs program goal, 20 MW of new solar electricity will be added by 2010. (Washington has 252 kilowatts of grid-tied solar electric capacity, according to figures shared last fall from Western S.U.N. Cooperative).

Geothermal also has considerable potential in Washington, a roughly estimated 300 MW, but this resource is not included in WashPIRG Foundation's assessment because "all Washington geothermal projects are in the early planning stages." Bio-gas and landfill-gas-to-energy present further renewables opportunities in the state, "but amounts of electricity generated from these sources will be small," the study said.

On the demand side, WashPIRG Foundation called Washington utility energy efficiency efforts "extremely successful" in the 1990s, despite big funding declines in the late 1990s.

Looking ahead, Tellus projected Washington could reduce overall power demand 12 percent by 2010 and 24 percent by 2020 through a wide range of cost-effective efficiency measures. "Although the energy savings outlined in the Tellus Institute study represent real, cost-effective opportunities specifically identified by their survey, to be more conservative we can set a state target of achieving half of those savings," Pregulman and Heavner wrote. "If Washington reaches 6% cumulative savings by 2010 and 12% by 2020, the state will be reducing electricity demand by 720 aMW in 2010, 1,160 aMW in 2015 and 1,650 aMW in 2020."

WashPIRG Foundation also outlined a number of advantages to the renewables/efficiency path in lieu of natural gas-fired power generation. Those include reduced emissions of carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide, increased diversity and improved reliability of the state's energy supply, expanded economic development and job creation, and cost benefits from energy efficiency ("the cheapest, as well as the easiest, quickest, and cleanest way to address urgent power needs") and fuel-free renewables. Construction times also are shorter for these resources than for fossil or nuclear plants.

State Policy Recommendations
WashPIRG Foundation recommended a number of policies to advance efficiency/renewables development in the Evergreen State.

Standards for both conservation and renewables are a primary suggestion. "In every state that has had significant investment in renewable energy there has been some form of portfolio standards," Pregulman said. WashPIRG Foundation also advocates more state tax incentives for energy efficiency measures.

The study recommended an end to new permits for natural gas-fired power plants. Washington could meet future loads without them, Pregulman said. "We're not making a judgment on all the different ones that have permits now," more than 2,800 MW worth.

WashPIRG wants to end what it called "wasteful subsidies" for coal and natural gas production. And it touts policies enabling more local control and "democratic governance" over energy matters, such as the formation of citizen utility boards. "It's just trying to make sure that the public is included in the process as much as possible," said Pregulman.

Related Sites:
"Clean, Affordable, Reliable: Energy Conservation and Renewable Energy in Washington"

Mark Ohrenschall
Old Idea, New Technologies
Con.Web - March 27, 2003

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