Wind energy industry poised to increase velocity in Oregon
By Lee van der Voo
Sustainable Business Oregon contributing writer
Renewable Northwest Project's Rachel Shimshak says the shutdown of coal plants in the region will provide new opportunities for wind energy.
Following industry contractions, a general economic slump, national uncertainty, and a rollback of state tax credits, Oregon could be looking at an uptick in the renewable energy market as a number of utilities around the region look to power down coal plants.
Rachel Shimshak, executive director of the Renewable Northwest Project, told the wind energy community Tuesday that a rejuvenated market could arise from the shutdown of 2,500 megawatts in coal plants in the near and not-so-near future.
Shimshak and others offered their remarks at the annual American Wind Energy Association's Northwest Summit at the downtown Hilton, where AWEA's senior director of federal regulatory affairs, Tom Vinson, also outlined wind development trends around the nation.
Vinson noted wind had a record year in 2012 with more than 13,000 megawatts installed - more capacity than any other energy resource, including natural gas. Oregon contributed 649 megawatts to that installation, and climbed from 7th place to 5th among states ranked for wind capacity installed.
Still, it's not exactly smooth sailing. Oregon's marketplace saw deep cuts after posting between 2,000 and 3,000 jobs in the fourth quarter of 2011.
And Vinson's encouraging portrait of the industry alongside others followed strong words from Gov. John Kitzhaber, who noted a lack of federal energy planning was pushing the West toward becoming a major exporter of coal without a clear understanding of the results to energy security, domestic energy pricing or the nation's carbon future. Last April, Kitzhaber issued a call for a comprehensive review of coal export facility plans.
Shimshak said the day's takeaways, however, were how policy and innovation could continue to buoy U.S. renewable energy markets. She noted wind projects and other renewables continue to tee up around Oregon and said, "They are just waiting for a market to serve."
That market could be rising as several major utilities look to power down coal generating facilities in the next decades, she said.
Those plants include PGE's Boardman, two TransAlta facilities in Centralia, Wash., PacifiCorp's Naughton Unit 3 in Wyoming and it's Carbon Plant in Utah, and The Corette Plant, owned by PPL Montana in Billings, Mont. All part of the Western power grid, the projects could be replaced with development for wind or other renewable energy projects built in Oregon.
"I'm hopeful that the economy is turning around and coming back. That will help float a lot of boats," said Shimshak. "But all this coal plant stuff, that's really hopeful. It's a longer range strategy but the planning for the replacement power, that's underway now."
"I think it creates an opportunity for us to think through a much cleaner set of replacement power for these resources and I think it challenges us to think about what's necessary for each utility system to continue to operate reliably and in an environmentally responsible way and in a way that is cost-competitive for their customers. And flexibly."
Oregon has already had tremendous growth in renewable energy projects since 1998, when the state had two renewable energy projects. Now renewable energy facilities in Oregon generate 7,000 megawatts per year —3,153 megawatts of that from wind — powering 1.7 million households.
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