RePower Humboldt Strategic Plan

The Schatz Energy Research Center held a press conference on Tuesday, September 18th to announce the release of the draft RePower Humboldt Strategic Plan. The plan, prepared by SERC and the Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA), lays out a roadmap for development of local renewable energy resources in order to meet the majority of Humboldt County’s electricity needs and a substantial portion of heating and transportation energy needs. SERC and RCEA are holding a town hall public meeting to present the plan on September 26th from 6 to 8 PM at the Wharfinger Building in Eureka. We are encouraging the community to review the plan and provide feedback. The public comment period will extend through October 26th. For more details and to download the draft documents visit SERC’s RePower Humboldt.

Renewable energy-related images

 

SERC Begins Electric Vehicle Planning Study for the North Coast

SERC has teamed up with the Redwood Coast Energy Authority and GHD (formerly Winzler and Kelly) to conduct a plug-in electric vehicle planning study for our North Coast community.  The California Energy Commission has provided $200,000 in funding for the study as part of the Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program (also known as AB 118).  The goals of this program are to reduce dependency on petroleum and greenhouse gas emissions while improving energy security.  The North Coast was one of nine regions funded throughout the state.

The aim of the North Coast Plug-in Electric Vehicle Readiness Project is to prepare Humboldt County for the successful adoption of electric vehicles.  Project activities will include the development of a plan to install electric vehicle charging infrastructure throughout the region, preparation of a permitting and installation guide, efforts to assist fleet vehicle operators in adopting plug-in electric vehicles, and education and outreach to the general public.  We expect to be complete the project by the first quarter of 2014.

Wind Energy in Humboldt County

Harlock Hill Wind Farm

The wind farm on Bear River Ridge would look similar to this wind farm in the United Kingdom. (Photo credit Andrew Smith.)

For the past two years, SERC has conducted a renewable energy planning study through the California Energy Commission’s Renewable Energy Secure Communities (RESCO) program (see recent RESCO post).  Together with our project partners the Redwood Coast Energy Authority and the Pacific Gas & Electric Company, we’ve taken a comprehensive look at the potential for local renewable energy in Humboldt County.

Here is what we learned.

  • We have the resources to supply most, if not all, of our energy needs with renewable sources.
  • No single resource is sufficient on its own; we must simultaneously develop multiple resources.
  • The most practical resources in order of increasing cost are energy efficiency, wind, small hydro, biomass, wave, and solar.

One thing that stands out in these conclusions is that wind power is the most cost effective of the renewable energy generation technologies.  That’s of particular interest because, right now, people in Humboldt County are engaged in a debate over a proposed wind power development project on Bear River Ridge, about 5 miles south of Ferndale (see map below).  ShellWind has proposed building a 50 MW wind farm on the ridge by installing 25 turbines and an associated substation.

Bear River Ridge wind energy project map

ShellWind has been working on this project for several years and is nearing the end of the feasibility phase of the project.  They have collected wind data, conducted environmental studies, including bird and bat surveys, and held public meetings.  Details can be found on Humboldt County’s web site, http://co.humboldt.ca.us/planning/bear-river/default.asp.

On the plus side, the wind farm would produce enough renewable electricity to power 22,000 Humboldt County homes, and generate 10% of our countywide electricity.  It would create local jobs and generate local revenues.  It would directly displace the burning of natural gas at PG&E’s Humboldt Bay Power Plant.  The project would increase our local energy security, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and increase our local air quality.

But a wind farm is a substantial civil project, requiring a large capital investment and involving industrial-scale construction activities.  Naturally, people are concerned about the potential negative impacts of the project.  The debate has become heated, with pro and con editorials and letters in local papers and discussions on local radio.  At a recent Ferndale City Council meeting, ShellWind made a presentation and attracted an overflow crowd, with strong opinions being expressed.  SERC also attended and director Peter Lehman made a presentation, “Facts About Wind Power,” at the meeting.  You can find Peter’s presentation at: http://www.schatzlab.org/docs/Lehman-Facts_About_Wind_Power_2012-01-05.pdf.

The range of concern reflects the diverse composition of our community.  Some are worried about the impacts of construction on local tourism and quality of life; some are concerned over the impacts to the local environment; some are bothered by the aesthetic impact of tall turbines on the scenic, coastal landscape; and some are simply opposed to a multi-national oil company doing business in Humboldt County.  Adding to the general tumult, there has been some misinformation circulating about this project and wind in general.  In addition to appearing on radio programs, writing editorials, and our Ferndale presentation, we’ve published a web page to address some of these topics and present relevant facts: http://www.schatzlab.org/projects/policyanalysis/wind/.

We’ve considered these facts and debated the pros and cons here at SERC.  We believe the benefits outweigh the consequences so we’ve gone on record in favor of the project.  Of all the renewable resources we might develop locally, wind is the easiest to accomplish at scale, as well as the most cost effective.  ShellWind expects to make a profit from the sale of wind electricity—without government subsidies—and is prepared to invest $125 million to complete this project.  It is hard to imagine how Humboldt County would raise funds of that magnitude otherwise.

We feel that saying no to this wind project would be missing a rare opportunity to implement the RESCO vision and put Humboldt County on a path toward a sustainable and secure energy supply.  At the same time, we recognize that the concerns being raised by the local community are real and need to be addressed.  We’re working with both sides—ShellWind and local citizens—to try and see this project through.

Being on the front lines of renewable energy development and being in the middle of a sometimes intense, politically charged debate has been a new and challenging experience for SERC.  Our mission has always been to promote clean and renewable energy.  We’re finding out what that really means.

New RESCO Products: Strategic Plan, Guide for Local Leaders

The Humboldt Renewable Energy Secure Communities (RESCO) project is nearing completion, and we’re close to publishing two new products, a RESCO strategic plan and a guide for local government on energy policy and regulations.

Humboldt County has the opportunity to lead the way toward a renewable energy future by using local renewable energy resources to meet the majority of its electricity needs and a large portion of its heating and transportation needs.  To accomplish this in an efficient, cost-effective manner will require a well thought-out plan.  The RESCO strategic plan lays out such a road map.

Comparison of future energy scenarios

Figure 1. Comparison of energy production by generation source as a fraction of total county demand for electricity in 2030.

The plan discusses three potential future energy scenarios for the year 2030 (see figure 1, below):  business-as-usual, bold, and peakBusiness-as-usual assumes we maintain our current sources of energy, bold assumes we develop an optimal mix of new efficiency and renewable energy resources while capping overall cost increases at 5% above business-as-usual, and peak assumes we develop all that is practically achievable.  Technologies considered include: energy efficiency, small hydro, wind, plug-in electric vehicles, heat pumps, biomass, wave, and solar power. The costs and benefits of these scenarios and technologies are considered.  Finally, a set of long-term strategies and near-term next steps are presented.

The other important deliverable nearing completion is a handbook for local policymakers to help them take leadership roles on bringing more renewable energy and energy efficiency to Humboldt County. The guide posits a number of questions (How can local governments capture the financial benefits of generating their own renewable energy? How can local governments encourage and support the private development of local renewable energy and energy efficiency?) and lays out action-oriented responses tailored to conditions in Humboldt County. The guide presents examples of many ways in which Humboldt County has already acted as a leader on energy policy and identifies examples from elsewhere that may work well with a local twist.

RESCO

RESCO logo

SERC is the technical lead on the Renewable Energy Secure Communities (RESCO) study, an effort led by the Redwood Coast Energy Authority and funded by the California Energy Commission.

A flurry of activity continues on the Humboldt County Renewable Energy Secure Community (RESCO) project. We have completed the bulk of our engineering and economic analyses and are preparing interim project reports on each of these tasks. Key lessons learned from our work to date are: (1) we can meet a large portion of our energy needs using local renewable energy resources; (2) we can do this at a modest overall cost increase; (3) we can greatly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions; and (4) renewable energy development will result in a substantial net increase in local jobs and economic output.

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Humboldt County Clean Energy Futures

Humboldt Bay Power Plant

RESCO Project Manager Jim Zoellick stands next to a 10 MW Natural Gas generator, one of sixteen that were recently installed by PG&E to replace the aging power plant at King Salmon south of Eureka. The generators will be a good match to intermittent renewable energy like wind and wave power. (Photo credit Jim Zoellick)

The Humboldt County Renewable Energy Secure Community (RESCO) project gives all of us at SERC a welcome opportunity to focus our effort on the community where we live, work, and play. The goal of the RESCO project is to forge a strategic plan for Humboldt County to develop clean and renewable energy resources that meet at least 75% of our electricity needs and a significant fraction of our heating and transportation needs. Our main project partner is the Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA). RCEA is focused on political and strategic issues; SERC is doing the technical and economic work.

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RESCO Study

RESCO Energy Balance Dashboard (Image credit SERC)

RESCO Energy Balance Dashboard (Image credit SERC)

The Humboldt County Renewable Energy Secure Community (RESCO) study is off to a strong start. We began the project in November of 2009 and since that time we have developed a single-node electricity dispatch model, gathered data on local renewable energy resources and local electricity demand, researched energy storage technologies, worked with NREL to obtain and customize economic impact assessment models, and collected renewable energy cost data. Using our dispatch model we have examined some preliminary scenarios for renewable energy development in Humboldt County. The figure below shows the output from our model for one such scenario for the month of December. In this particular case, renewable resources, primarily in the form of biomass, wind, and wave power, supply 86% of the electricity demand for the month.

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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?

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