Transmission issues — the key to alternative energy?

PowerlinesThis Yakima Herald Republic story highlights a major obstacle to the acceptance of renewable energy – transmission lines: … Renewa bles — wind, solar and biomass — make up about 2 percent of the state’s current energy sources. Customer interest also is adding to the push for wind. “On the customer side, we have heard that they want their utility to be moving into the area of clean power,” said Andy Wappler, senior public relations manager for Puget Sound Energy, which has 1 million utility customers in Western Washington and Kittitas County and has the most wind capacity developed. Puget Sound is in the hunt for another 1,000 megawatts of wind energy to meet the 2020 target.

But the biggest reason for the growth of wind lies just out of sight from Wild Horse: the Columbia River with its huge hydroelectric generating capacity and the transmission lines that crisscross the state and region. Because of its intermittent nature, wind energy needs a solid base of other sources to sustain delivery of power to homes and businesses. Hydro dams are that base.

Other states, principally Montana and North Dakota, have better wind than Washington. But the lack of transmission is stunting development . The nonprofit Renewable Northwest Project, a primary proponent of the initiative, estimates Washington, Oregon and Idaho have potential for 20,000 megawatts of wind energy. Montana has as much as six times the potential as the three other Northwest states combined.

“The Northwest, I think, proves to be more attractive than you would think based on the wind potential because wind is very compatible with the hydro system,” said Tim Stearns, a senior energy policy analyst for the state Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development. While wind development has taken off in the last couple of years, developers have long been looking at the region, said Doug Carter, senior vice president for Chicago-based Invenergy Wind North America LLC.

…Energy planners agree the region has the existing facilities to handle up to 6,000 megawatts of wind energy with minor improvements to the system. But near the 6,000-megawatt barrier, major investments will be needed to keep the energy coming for a growing region.

The federal power-marketing agency, the Bonneville Power Administration, estimates the cost of new transmission lines range from $300,000 to $2 million a mile depending on costs due to terrain, capacity and land acquisition. Bonneville is preparing to take those costs into account when it proposes new rates for 2009.

“What it gets down to is we owe it to our customers to make sure the proper parties are being charged for the cost of running the system,” said Scott Simms, Bonneville spokesman in Portland. “As we look at some of these wind farms, where they are located and where they are going, a large part of the wind is serving customers beyond BPA borders.” The search for new wind sites has brought developers to Yakima County. The county hearing examiner is mulling a request by Northwest Wind Partners, a joint venture between Goldendale’s Ross Management and EnXco, a French company, to place meteorological stations on four parcels, three north of Sunnyside and the other south of Moxee….

Power lines, Tony Boon, Wikimedia Commons 

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