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Economic and dam related articles

PUD Looks for Energy Underfoot

by Bill Sheets
The Daily Herald, August 4, 2008

EVERETT -- As early as 2014, the same awesome power that caused Snohomish County's Glacier Peak volcano to erupt four times in the past 3,000 years could turn on the lights in about 10 percent of the county's homes.

The Snohomish County PUD -- already studying tidal power -- plans to explore geothermal energy as part of its plan to diversify its power sources in the coming years.

The agency also has plans, which are still in their infancy, to purchase wind power, to reap energy from manure and landfills and, beginning next year, to provide incentives for people to install solar panels in their homes. It also plans to continue offering incentives for conservation, including rebates for purchasing power-saving appliances.

Those energy options, along with the hydroelectric power that serves as the predominant source of electricity in the county, are part of a long-term energy supply plan the PUD could soon make official.

A hearing on the plan is scheduled for Tuesday, and the board could approve it as soon as Aug. 19.

The PUD developed the plan for several reasons, officials said. The county is growing, households are using more energy and hydroelectric power is expected to get more expensive because of measures to make dams more salmon-friendly. Hydroelectric energy currently costs about 3 cents per kilowatt hour, while the alternative sources run 6 to 8 cents. Officials expect the cost of hydroelectric power to catch up with that of the other sources.

And the options are good for the environment, they said.

In 2006 voters approved Initiative 937, which requires the state's major utilities to produce 15 percent of their electricity from renewable resources such as wind and geothermal by 2020. Power from dams doesn't count.

The PUD's plan has it producing or obtaining about 18 percent of its power from geothermal, wind, tidal and biomass sources by 2020. That would reduce the percentage of power from hydroelectric sources from 81 percent today to about 73 percent. The remaining 9 percent of power would come from slowing demand through conservation.

The PUD isn't counting solar power toward its totals because it would be generated by individual installations and not routed through the utility, officials said. Still, this could reduce the load on the system, they said.

Currently, the remainder of the energy other than hydropower comes from a mix of nuclear, coal and natural gas and a smattering of other sources, which is purchased from the Bonneville Power Administration and other providers.

The agency expects to spend $3.4 billion over the next 12 years on energy, research and development. This likely will mean some rate increases, but it's believed some of that could be offset by government grants, officials said.

The agency recently received a $263,000 grant from the Bonneville Power Administration to fund tidal power research in 2008, after receiving $220,000 in 2007.

The PUD is a third of the way into a three-year study of tidal power. The utility is investigating seven locations between the San Juan Islands and Bremerton as possible locations for the underwater windmill-like turbines.

While the PUD is optimistic about the possibilities, its plan counts on tidal for less than 1 percent of its energy by 2020. Tacoma Power recently abandoned its study of tidal power, determining the investment was too steep for the return.

"We're being very conservative about the challenges we might face," said Craig Collar, senior manager of energy for resource development.

Geothermal power has a lot of promise, Collar said. The PUD plans to dig as many as three test wells in the Cascades as early as 2010. The goal is to have a plant online as early as 2014.

Geothermal power is generated when steam, heat or hot water from geothermal reservoirs is used to spin turbine generators, which produce electricity.

The PUD plans to purchase wind-generated power from private developers in the Columbia Gorge, said Dana Toulson, PUD assistant general manager for power rates and transmission. The wind doesn't blow consistently enough in the Puget Sound area to produce reliable power, officials said.

The $1 million solar program would provide loans, rebates and federal tax credits for individuals to install solar panels on their homes. A $20,000 up-front investment would be required to meet about 20 percent of the energy needs in an average home, PUD spokesman Neil Neroutsos said. Solar power is not considered the best source here because of the frequent cloud cover and shade from trees, Collar said.

To round out the sources, the PUD plans to pick up some power from Qualco, a partnership of dairy farmers, the Tulalip Tribes and Northwest Chinook Recovery, a Monroe-based environmental group that plans to build a $3 million plant near Monroe to make power from methane gas from manure. The PUD also will look at opportunities to invest in other biomass projects, such as generating power from wood waste, and small hydroelectric projects in the Sultan Basin and elsewhere in the county.

Advances in technology could increase use of renewable fuels over and above what the PUD is projecting, officials said. And there's another advantage to renewable resources, PUD general manager Steve Klein said.

Once they're tapped, "you get to reap the benefit of the fact that the fuel is free," he said.

Related Pages:
Flint Seeks Re-election to PUD by Candice Boutilier, Columbia Basin Herald, 8/15/8

Bill Sheets
PUD Looks for Energy Underfoot
The Daily Herald, August 4, 2008

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