Tuesday, December 28, 2010

$2B in transmission lines planned in Oregon


More than $2 billion worth of transmission lines are planned throughout Oregon in the next decade, according to the state’s major utilities - PacifiCorp, Portland General Electric and Idaho Power. They say their systems cannot handle increased demand and new wind, geothermal and biomass projects coming online.

After Oregon’s hydropower dams were constructed in the 1930s, aluminum smelters looked to tap into cheap power along the Columbia River. That led to construction of the transmission network the state uses today, according to Mike Mikolaitis, director of transmission projects for Portland General Electric. Today, however, those lines are increasingly congested.

“Transmission lines are like the freeway of our electrical system,” Mikolaitis said. “At rush hour, there’s a limit to what can go on the freeway without causing a backup. Our electrical transmission system in Oregon is congested and inadequate to deliver most of the renewable energy being built in the eastern part of the state.”

PGE’s proposed solution is Cascade Crossing, a 500-kilovolt, 187-mile-long transmission line that would cut across a national forest, tribal lands and private parcels between Boardman and Salem. The $823 million project is the largest of its kind to be proposed in the last 30 years, according to Deb Schallert, head of permitting for Cascade Crossing.

“In my lifetime, I’ve never permitted a major transmission line like this,” Schallert said. “Public-land stakeholders want to know what habitat impacts are at stake. Private landowners want to know why we need to use land they own. The Warm Springs Tribe is a sovereign nation and has its own process to comment on the route. The challenge we’ve faced consistently is educating people about why we need new transmission.”

PGE predicts a 45 percent increase in electricity demand over the next 20 years, according to its Integrated Resource Plan. PacifiCorp says transmission line development over the next 20 to 25 years is essential for grid reliability to be maintained. Since 2007, PacifiCorp has planned its own major transmission project, Energy Gateway, a $6 billion, 2,000-mile-long transmission line project that will snake through Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Oregon.

John Cupparo, PacifiCorp’s vice president of transmission, said for the last three years he has stayed up late at night thinking about how to implement such a gigantic project. Energy Gateway will pass through federal lands, requiring years of studies of cultural and environmental issues along the proposed route. The timing of those federal processes, Cupparo said, will determine whether the project is delivered on time and within the budget.

“There are so many different stakeholders and differing perspectives on what the right answer is,” Cupparo said. “These are not cheap projects; we just brought in the first segment of Energy Gateway for $830 million. As the Bureau of Land Management and others work through all of the environmental, cultural and other issues, it takes time. And we need certainty that we can get the capacity installed on time.”

The Bonneville Power Administration has approximately $900 million of transmission line projects in environmental review, according to company spokesman Doug Johnson, mostly because of transmission service requests for wind projects in Oregon and Washington. The BPA, a federal entity, can condemn property or use eminent domain, but the agency has been trying to avoid doing so, Johnson said.

“We only use eminent domain as a last resort,” Johnson said. “You want to meet electrical needs, but you also need to respond to concerns from communities along the way. That’s why public process is so important.”

Mikolaitis added that not building transmission lines is not an option. As more entities connect to Oregon’s grid, the possibility of popping circuits becomes more likely.

“We’ve already seen reliability issues with our transmission during wind and ice storms,” Mikolaitis said. “You have to remember: The entire western U.S. shares a grid. If there’s a problem on the transmission level in Oregon, it could result in a blackout over a number of states. There’s a reason utilities are doing this collectively, not just individually.”

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Oregon EQC Approves Boardman 2020 Plan

The Oregon Environmental Quality Commission on Dec. 9 unanimously approved Portland General Electric's plan to retrofit the Boardman coal-fired power plant with new emissions controls and stop burning coal by 2020.

Earlier this month, staff of the Department of Environmental Quality recommended approving the plan.

The ruling repeals the 2009 BART rules for Boardman, and implements new control requirements that are consistent with the regional haze rules (see "Oregon DEQ Staff Recommends Boardman 2020 Plan," Dec. 7, 2010).

PGE will now proceed with acquisition and installation of the necessary controls, beginning with low-NOx burners and mercury controls in July 2011.

The new controls are expected to reduce NOx emissions by about 50 percent and permitted levels of SO2 emissions by 75 percent. A separate set of rules also requires the addition of controls to reduce the plant's mercury emissions by 90 percent. All coal-related emissions from the Boardman facility will be reduced to zero with the end of coal-fired operations in 2020.

The combined capital cost of the required controls is currently estimated at about $60 million.

PGE owns 65 percent of the Boardman plant. Co-owners include Bank of America Leasing LLC, with 15 percent; Idaho Power, with 10 percent; and Power Resources Cooperative, with 10 percent.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Salazar, Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies Announce Completion of Sage-Grouse Habitat Map in the West

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today announced the completion of a breeding bird density map for the greater sage-grouse by the Bureau of Land Management in coordination with the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The map identifies important range-wide focal areas having high density occurrences of greater sage-grouse, a ground-dwelling bird that inhabits much of the West. These focal areas were determined by estimating the male’s attendance on leks, the communal breeding grounds of the bird. The BLM will work with the state fish and wildlife agencies to further refine the map by incorporating more specific state-level data.

“This map and initiative will help advance our collaborative efforts with states and stakeholders to develop smart policy to enhance the sustainability of our sage-grouse populations,” Salazar said. “The final map will give Interior a strong foundation to identify land uses that do not compromise areas that are so critical to the greater sage-grouse.”

“As the federal land manager of more sage-grouse habitat than any other entity, the BLM takes very seriously our commitment to working with others to manage America’s natural resources,” said BLM Director Bob Abbey. “This mapping effort will help other federal and state agencies and the BLM as it carries out its multiple-use mandate. We are confident that all activities can be managed to be compatible with conservation of the sage-grouse and its habitat.”

Abbey provided an overview of the mapping effort last March, when Secretary Salazar announced the Fish and Wildlife Service’s finding that the greater sage-grouse warranted protection under the Endangered Species Act, but that listing the species at this time is precluded by the need to address higher priority species first.

The Fish and Wildlife Service provided technical expertise in the development of the map. The NRCS will utilize the map in implementing their Sage-Grouse Initiative. WAFWA agencies are also ready to begin using the valuable management tool.

“We are pleased with this collaborative, state/federal effort, and look forward to continuing the important work of conserving this iconic species of the American West,” said Ken Mayer, Director of the Nevada Department of Wildlife and the WAFWA lead for sage-grouse conservation.

"USDA is honored to collaborate with state and federal partners in targeting NRCS's new Sage-Grouse Initiative to deliver the right conservation practices in the right places," said NRCS Chief Dave White. "New breeding density maps are critical to SGI's targeted approach to ensure the largest biological return on our conservation investment."

“The greater sage-grouse has historically inhabited millions of acres in the West, making it imperative that we work across political and administrative boundaries at a landscape scale to protect and restore sagebrush habitat,” said Acting Service Director Rowan Gould. “This map provides vital information that will enable us to work together to prevent further habitat fragmentation and undertake other conservation work to ensure the species’ long term survival.”

Greater sage-grouse are found in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, eastern California, Nevada, Utah, western Colorado, South Dakota and Wyoming and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. They currently occupy approximately 56 percent of their historical range.

View the sage-grouse breeding bird density map at http://blm.gov/kb5c