Renewable Energy Security in Humboldt County

RESCO Process Flow Diagram

RESCO Process Flow Diagram (Image credit SERC).

How much of Humboldt County’s energy needs could be supplied by wind and wave energy? At what point would the local electricity grid become unstable due to the intermittent nature of these resources? How many biomass power plants would be necessary to buffer these resources? Should we invest in energy storage technologies or increased transmission to the rest of California? How much would this all cost?

Humboldt County shows great promise for a clean, sustainable, renewable energy future, but the solution to our energy problem is not simple or self-evident. As illustrated in the Figure above, we could supply our energy needs from many different renewable sources. Also, we could adopt many different strategies for reducing consumption, shifting fuel types, storing energy, and more. There are many complicated and unanswered questions that prevent us from knowing which options are possible, let alone cost-effective.

In an attempt to tackle these questions, SERC is partnering with the Redwood Coast Energy Authority, Pacific Gas & Electric Company, and Dr. Steven Hackett of HSU to perform a detailed investigation of technically feasible and economically beneficial options for local renewable energy development. Our goal is to produce a comprehensive and strategic plan for renewable energy development in Humboldt County.

The project is funded mainly by the California Energy Commission’s Renewable Energy-based Secure Communities (RESCO) Program. Our local Humboldt County Headwaters Fund and SERC are contributing matching funds.

The RESCO project task list is an ambitious one:
•    Perform an in-depth assessment of local renewable energy resources, as well as local energy consumption trends.
•    Develop a modeling framework for analyzing the impact of a wide range of local renewable energy portfolio scenarios on grid reliability.
•    Research the costs associated with supplying 75-100% renewable electricity and a large fraction of transportation and heating costs with renewable sources.
•    Analyze the impact of renewable energy development on the local economy.
•    Conduct a stakeholder analysis, inviting the input of community members and energy developers.
•    Produce a plan for Humboldt County with recommendations for realistic and economically beneficial next steps for renewable energy development.

This is a tall order to fill, but this kind of project is not new to SERC. In 2005, we worked with a local consulting team to develop an Energy Element for Humboldt County’s General Plan update, which will shape local energy policy for the next twenty years. To guide creation of the Energy Element, SERC prepared a background technical document that examined energy use, energy infrastructure, and energy resource potential in Humboldt County.

The background technical report found the following characteristics associated with Humboldt County’s current energy picture:
•    Humboldt County is like an energy island, with minimal connections to the larger electricity and natural gas grids.
•    Over a third of our primary energy use is for transportation.
•    A fifth of our primary energy use is for natural gas heating and industrial process needs.
•    Over 40% of our primary energy use goes toward electricity generation.
•    About three quarters of our electricity is generated locally, largely using biomass resources (wood waste from the forest products industry).
•    Large wind, wave, and biomass energy resources are available locally and could supply all of our energy needs, including electricity, heating and transportation.

These characteristics represent exciting opportunities for shifting demand and developing our local resources. Humboldt County could serve as an example to the rest of the country and the world of how to overcome the technical and financial challenges to renewable energy development. SERC is delighted to be a part of Humboldt County’s transition toward sustainability and prosperity based on renewable energy.