Harvesting conference weathers blackout with microgrid
While a substation blow-up had engulfed Corvallis in darkness, the 2013 Harvesting Clean Energy conference powered on.
By Patrick Mazza
Waking up in my hotel room across the street from the 13th
annual Harvesting Clean Energy Conference yesterday, I hit the light switch.
Nothing. I tried a few other switches and then looked out into the hallway to
confirm that the hotel had no power.
But I could see out the window the lights of the Oregon State University campus shining into the still darkened sky. It turns out that while a power blackout had engulfed Corvallis in darkness, the campus location was lucky 13 for the conference. The original location in a building on the edge of campus was dark, but the conference was easily relocated to a lit up building next door.
During the opening session, everyone was speculating why the Beavs campus still has juice,
but at my table there was someone who I thought might have the answer: Dave
Sjoding, who directs the Northwest Clean Energy Applications Center. Dave is one of the Northwest’s gurus on combined
heat and power (CHP) plants . He told me the OSU campus has a CHP unit
that it installed about three years ago. The conference opening was lit by the
Because it is highly efficient and, unlike most power plants not letting the heat go to waste but using it in campus buildings, the plant received support from Climate Trust for reduced carbon emissions and the Oregon Department of Energy through business tax credits. And it is located in the nation’s only LEED platinum certified energy facility. The plant currently uses natural gas, but could also use biogas or biodiesel. So from the standpoint of energy efficiency and the potential to use bioenergy as it becomes available, the plant is an example of the kind of clean energy success the conference has promoted since it started in 2000.
The message, as Washington State Bioenergy Coordinator Peter Moulton noted, is the “resiliency of distributed energy sources. “ As we come to live in a more climate-turbulent world, we will need distributed energy not just to reduce the carbon emissions driving global warming, but also to deal with the consequences of the carbon that’s already up there. Superstorm Sandy, leaving wide swathes of the New York-New Jersey area blacked out for days and weeks, also sent that message.
I originally reported
that the blackout was caused by a substation blow-up, which would have been a
failure in the local power grid. But it
turns out that was incorrect, and the actual reason strengthens the distributed
energy message even more. The cause was
a cracked insulator in a transmission line bringing power in from a distant
plant. Since Corvallis is served by
PacifiCorp, that line could well have been carrying coal power from the
Rockies. And unlike the local microgrid,
around nine percent of the juice would have leaked out of lines along the way. The
power lighting the conference hall was fundamentally more efficient.
With two slides, Renewable Northwest Project Director Rachel Shimshak underscored the huge success of clean energy in the Northwest in an opening “How far we’ve come” session. The first was a map of Northwest clean energy projects in 1998: one small wind farm in the entire region. Then she put up the 2013 map, which shows literally dozens of projects in wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, even wave energy. The figures are huge: $13 billion in investment in Oregon and Washington alone. 7,000 megawatts in installed facilities, with enough power generated to supply 1.7 million homes. Oregon is now the nation’s #4 wind state, and Washington is #7.
Mike McArthur, who heads up Oregon Association of Counties and was a Sherman County, Oregon commissioner, provided another indicative statistic: The county is now home to 1,000 megawatts in wind power. Once 35th in Oregon per capita income, it has moved up to 2nd due to a combination of wind revenues and good wheat prices.
Fossil fuel interests have mounted increasing attacks on clean energy. That includes funding efforts in the Northwest aimed at undermining advanced clean energy policies in Oregon and Washington such as our Renewable Energy Standards. They have blown up bankruptcies such as Solyndra to smear clean energy, distorting the reality that all new industries have shake-outs. There were 500 car companies in 1900, and we haven’t seen a new Commodore computer in quite some time. But clean energy continues to grow, as the Northwest experience proves, and the fact the fossils feel compelled to attack is the best testimony they are feeling the competitive pressure.
So a conference that is focused on a burgeoning industry and that was able to conduct business as usual while surrounded by a black out demonstrated, in small and large ways, that Northwest clean energy policies have been a grand success. We are indeed harvesting clean energy and building a firm foundation of prosperity for our regional economy. Let’s push back the fossils and keep moving forward.