RePowering Humboldt with Community Scale Renewable Energy

repower-banner

In March of this year, along with our partner, the Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA), we completed the three-year RePower Humboldt project funded by the California Energy Commission (CEC). A key deliverable, the RePower Humboldt Strategic Plan, identified future energy scenarios for Humboldt County in which local renewable energy resources could provide over 75 percent of local electricity needs and a significant portion of heating and transportation energy needs by 2030. The plan pinpoints biomass and wind energy as key resources. In addition, large-scale adoption of plug-in electric vehicles and heat pumps was found to be critical to the cost-effective reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Now, the RePower Humboldt team is looking for opportunities to put the plan into action.

At our final project review meeting in Sacramento, CEC project manager Mike Sokol mentioned how impressed the CEC has been with the quality of our work. Now they have backed up this praise with a proposed award to begin implementing the RePower Humboldt Strategic Plan.  The follow-on grant, a $1.75 million award, again partners SERC with RCEA and also includes the Blue Lake Rancheria as a new project partner. Our proposal was ranked third among 30 submissions and was one of only four awards in our research area.

The new project, called Repowering Humboldt with Community Scale Renewable Energy, is expected to begin in June of 2013 and will run through March of 2015. The purpose of the project is to demonstrate and validate key aspects of the RePower Humboldt Strategic Plan.  The project will include two main elements: SERC will lead the design and installation of a first-of-its-kind woody biomass gasifier and fuel cell power system, and RCEA will implement a community-based energy upgrade program.

The biomass energy system will be installed at the Blue Lake Rancheria casino and hotel where it will supply about a third of the electric power needs. It will feature a Proton Power gasifier that turns sawdust-sized woody biomass into hydrogen fuel, and a 175-kW Ballard fuel cell that generates electricity from hydrogen. Waste heat from the system will be used to meet hot water needs. We aim to achieve a biomass-to-electricity efficiency double that of a comparable-scale, conventional steam power plant. If successful, this project could open up a new market for distributed-scale, biomass combined heat and power systems.

The energy upgrade component will focus on services for residences and businesses in the Mad River valley community (City of Blue Lake, Blue Lake Rancheria, and surrounding areas), including energy efficiency, solar energy systems, heat pumps, and the installation of two electric vehicle charging stations. This energy upgrade will demonstrate a comprehensive, community-based energy services model that can be replicated throughout the state.

The RePowering Humboldt with Community Scale Renewable Energy project is an exciting effort that will help move Humboldt County toward a secure energy future. Watch for updates in future newsletters as the project unfolds.

All project documents for the RePower Humboldt project, including the strategic plan, a regulatory and policy guide on renewable energy and energy efficiency, and other technical reports and memos can be accessed on SERC’s web page here.

Photo credit: Malene Thyssen (wave) and Bin vim Garten (vehicle).

RePower Humboldt Plan Pivots on Local Renewable Resources

SERC and the Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA) have unveiled their joint RePower Humboldt Strategic Plan, spelling out how local renewable resources can be used to meet the majority of Humboldt County’s electricity needs and a large portion of its transportation and heating energy needs as well.  The plan lays out an array of opportunities and recommends a set of actions that would create jobs, stimulate the local economy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase local energy security.

The RePower Humboldt plan is the result of more than two years of research, analysis and community involvement.  According to Matthew Marshall, Executive Director of RCEA, “renewable energy development has the potential to provide significant economic, environmental and energy security benefits to our region.  We’re excited to share the plan with the community and begin a dialog about our options moving forward.”

SERC Director Arne Jacobson said, “If California is to meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals, which call for an 80% reduction below 1990 levels by 2050, we will need some regions to lead the way by scaling up clean energy use decades earlier. Humboldt County has the opportunity to serve as a positive example in this regard, and the RePower Humboldt plan can act as a road map to get us there.”
Key recommendations in the plan include:

• Aggressively pursue cost-effective energy efficiency   opportunities

• Support responsible wind energy development.

• Expand the use of biomass energy that is consistent with forest restoration needs and priorities.

• Develop infrastructure for and encourage the use of electric vehicles.

• Encourage development of distributed energy installations.

• Pursue options for local development and ownership of renewable energy projects, as well as local purchase of the power generated.

• Form an energy leadership group to move the plan forward.

 

A public draft of the plan is now available and the community is encouraged to review it and provide feedback, either on-line at www.redwoodenergy.org/programs/repower or www.schatzlab.org/repower or in-person at the RCEA, 517 5th Street, Eureka, 707-269-1700.

Public comment on the plan will be accepted through October 26th for incorporation in a final version.

Cover page of the draft RePower Humboldt Strategic Plan

Note: RePower Humboldt is the result of work conducted under the Humboldt County Renewable Energy Secure Community (RESCO) project. The RePower Humboldt name, rather than RESCO, will be used to refer to this effort in the future.

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.

Coming Full Circle at Redwood National and State Parks

Espa Lagoon PV system

Interns Erin McDonald and Matthew Smith (lower right) pose with RNSP employees after successful installation of Espa Lagoon’s new PV system. (Photo Credit SERC)

In the spring of 2000, SERC initiated a collaboration with the University-National Park Energy Partnership Program (UNPEPP). This past summer, the SERC-UNPEPP relationship reached a new milestone with the completion of a renewable energy project six years in the making.

UNPEPP links national parks with university energy programs all over the United States. Students work as summer interns in the parks, identifying opportunities to improve energy efficiency or use renewable energy. Since the collaboration began, SERC and nearby Redwood National and State Parks (RNSP) have successfully completed five renewable energy-related projects, including design and installation of solar electric and solar hot water systems and energy efficiency analyses at various park facilities.

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