RePowering Humboldt with Community Scale Renewable Energy

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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).

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.

A Message from the Director

Peter Lehman

Peter Lehman, SERC Director

The past couple of months have been an exciting time at the lab.  As Colin Sheppard reports in his article about wind energy in Humboldt County, SERC—and I personally—have been caught up in an intense and politically charged debate about ShellWind’s proposed 50 MW wind farm on Bear River Ridge.  Though our work in renewable energy has always had political overtones, never before have we been thrust into the political limelight.  It’s been an eye-opener for me.

In many ways, ShellWind’s proposal to build the wind farm seems like a no-brainer.  When complete, it will mean a substantial increase in renewable energy generation in Humboldt County and it will make us more energy secure.  It will mean local economic development and jobs.  It will reduce greenhouse gases.  Who could be against that?

It turns out many people can.  The citizens of Ferndale and Petrolia have come out in force to oppose the project.  As Colin notes, they have objected to the road building, the environmental impacts, the disruptive nature of big turbines in their pastoral country, and doing business with a large, multi-national corporation that they don’t trust.  Editorials have appeared in our local paper entitled, “I don’t want ShellWind in my backyard,” and “NIMBY and proud of it.”  Because we’ve written and spoken in favor of the project, some have called us out for “attacking” local citizens and their interests.  It’s an unfamiliar situation for me personally and for the lab.

The good news is that we’ve been able to start a civil dialogue with some of the project’s opponents that I hope will allow cooler heads to prevail.  But how this will play out is anyone’s guess.  We’ll keep you informed in subsequent newsletters.

In other, calmer news, Andrea Alstone reports on progress in upgrading our hydrogen station so that we can achieve 700 bar refueling.  That will mean we can drive our Toyota fuel cell car to the Bay Area, refuel at the AC Transit or Berkeley station, and drive home.  Since we travel to the Bay Area frequently, this will be the first long distance fuel cell commute in the world.  Richard Engel reports on our efforts to take our hydrogen/fuel cell curriculum to a national audience through an NSF grant.  Finally, Jim Zoellick reports on our RESCO project that is coming to fruition with the publication of our strategic renewable energy plan for Humboldt County.

Last newsletter, written in December, I wrote about the sunniest fall and early winter ever.  Now our more usual winter weather has returned with a vengeance.  It’s pouring as I write this and flood warnings are posted.  As everything here in Humboldt turns electric green, I wish you some refreshing spring rain and flowers to come.

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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Working with the Yurok Tribe on Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Evaluating Yurok PV Installation

Jim Zoellick takes measures the shading (using a solar pathfinder) on a PV array on a Yurok Tribal office building. (Photo credit SERC).

The Schatz Lab has a long-standing relationship working with the Yurok Tribe on energy projects. Starting in 1999, we installed a fuel cell power system at School House Peak that powered their cell phone repeater station. Since then we have installed a residential off-grid solar electric system and conducted energy planning and needs assessment work.

Currently we are conducting a feasibility study to examine the potential for wind- and hydro-electric energy generation on the Reservation. We have been collecting stream flow data on Pecwan and Ke’Pel Creeks for about two years, as well as wind speed data on McKinnon Hill for the past year. We are now analyzing the data, determining the energy generation potential, estimating project costs and potential revenues, and conducting life-cycle economic assessments. The final results of this study are due early next year.

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Yurok Wind and Hydro Feasibility Study

SERC and Yurok Staff Raise a 50m Wind Monitoring Tower

SERC and Yurok Staff Raise a 50m Wind Monitoring Tower (Photo credit SERC).

SERC has been working with Austin Nova and others at the Yurok Tribe to assess the feasibility of developing wind and hydroelectric energy resources on the Yurok Reservation. In the fall of 2008 we installed stream gauging stations on Pecwan and Ke’Pel creeks, and in September of 2009 we installed a 50 meter wind monitoring tower atop the McKinnon Hill ridge. Since then we have collected a substantial amount of wind and hydro data, and we are now prepared to begin analysis of these data to see if energy development projects are feasible.

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SERC Raises Wind Monitoring Tower with the Yurok Tribe

SERC and Yurok Staff Raise a 50m Wind Monitoring Tower

SERC and Yurok Staff Raise a 50m Wind Monitoring Tower (Photo credit SERC).

SERC staff and Yurok Tribe members recently raised a 50-meter meteorological tower atop McKinnon Hill on the Yurok Reservation. The tower will be used to collect wind data for one year, and SERC will use the data to conduct a wind energy feasibility analysis for the Tribe. At left, SERC engineers Richard Engel and Chris Carlsen work with Yurok planner Austin Nova to raise the gin pole. At right, the tower raising team celebrates their accomplishment. From left are Roger Gibbons, Richard Engel, Austin Nova, Chris Carlsen, Colin Sheppard, Victor, Jim Zoellick, and Ray Daniels (Six Rivers Communications).

Yurok Wind and Hydro Feasibility Study Update

Yurok Stream Flow Monitoring

HSU graduate student Jenny Tracy and Yurok Tribe Planner Austin Nova measure stream flow at Pecwan Creek. (Photo credit SERC).

SERC is working with the Yurok Tribe to examine the feasibility of developing hydro and wind power resources on the Yurok Reservation. SERC and Yurok Tribe staff recently installed gauging stations on Ke’Pel and Pecwan Creeks. These stations provide continuous monitoring of stream elevation. Periodically we visit the sites and measure stream flow. We will use this information to develop stage-discharge curves for the two creeks. The stage-discharge curves will allow us to convert the continuous stream elevation data into flow data. We are also installing rain gauges at each site. We plan to use precipitation data to help us correlate the data for these two streams with other streams in the area for which there are long-term stream flow and precipitation data records.

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SERC to Assist Yurok Tribe with Wind and Hydro Study

Jenny and Austin taking stream measurements

SERC's Jenny Tracy (left) and Yurok Tribe's Austin Nova (right) taking stream measurements (Photo Credit Kellie Brown)

After working with the Yurok Tribe for the last few years on energy education and planning projects, we are excited to be conducting a detailed feasibility study that we hope will result in the installation of renewable energy hardware on the Yurok Reservation.

In a recently completed study for the Tribe (SERC Energy News, Fall 2006), SERC identified hydro and wind energy as two of the most promising renewable energy resources on the Reservation. SERC is now embarking on a new DOE-funded feasibility study to analyze opportunities for the development of these resources. Our study will equip the Tribe to move forward with project development if any of the project opportunities look favorable.

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