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Renewable Resources

by Mark Ohrenschall and Jude Noland
Con.Web, April 29, 2003

Energy Northwest Expands Nine Canyon Wind Project, Pursues New Biomass Technology Venture

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.

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.

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.

Related Sites:
Energy Northwest

Jude Noland and Mark Ohrenschall
Renewable Resources
Con.Web - April 29, 2003

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