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The A to Z of renewable energy

by AMANDA WINTERS
Sequim Gazette

 

In a joint work session of the Peninsula Development District and the Resource Conservation and Development group, eight panelists covered eight different aspects of renewable energy in front of about 50 people gathered at the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribal Center in Blyn on Oct. 28.

 

"This is kind of a tour of the horizon of energy," PDD President Jim McEntire said before giving the floor to the panelists.

 

David Sjoding, a renewable energy specialist with the Washington State University Energy Program, gave an overview of the importance of creating renewable energy locally.

 

"You want to maximize your local economic opportunities and think of it (renewable energy development) as an investment."

 

With the cost of green energy higher than other sources, such as coal, an investor's mind-set of long-term payoff is important, he said.

 

Solar power

Andy Cochran, founder and president of Power Trip Energy Corp., said customers who purchase the in-grid tied photovoltaic solar panels actually get paid by utility companies for the power they generate.

 

But that happens after an average of $35,000 is spent on the installation. The payback from utility companies is normally a 5- to 10-percent return on the initial investment, he said.

 

Interest in solar energy has grown, with more than 200 projects completed since the company began eight years ago, but more needs to be done to make it affordable, he said.

 

Cochran said he wants to see better financing for solar power installations.

 

"It should be as easy to finance as a car."

 

Barney Burke, a Jefferson County Public Utility District board member, said providing cheap renewable energy is the biggest obstacle.

 

"There's a lot of praise for green power but not a lot of people are willing to pay for it."

 

Puget Sound Energy has an option for customers to choose to use green power but at an increased cost. Only 3 percent of PSE's customers have opted in, he said.

 

Wind and tidal energy

Charlie Brandt, director of Battelle Marine Sciences Laboratory, said it is important to do something about generating renewable energy now for several reasons.

 

"First, we've been telling ourselves we'd do something about renewable energy since the Nixon administration," he said.

 

Brandt said the issue with all kinds of energy is price.

 

Until 2006, the price of coal remained steady and extremely cheap. Then China entered the coal market and the price rose from 7 cents per kilowatt-hour to 11 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2009.

 

"Now we're paying an international price."

 

In looking at where power is used and where power can be generated, Brandt said 52 percent of the U.S. population lives in coastal counties and the 28 coastal states use 78 percent of the nation's electricity.

 

"The coast is where the demand is," he said. "The coast is also where the resources are."

 

Offshore wind power and tidal power are developing technologies that have the potential to produce huge amounts of power without some of the unwanted consequences of land-based power, he said.

 

The tide is predictable, whereas land-based power sources often aren't.

 

Offshore wind can

generate four times what is generated in the U.S., without the noise, blight to scenery and inconsistency seen in land-based wind power, he said.

 

Moving forward with wind

Linda Rotmark, representing the Innovation Partnership Zone, said there are five national policies needed to help people move forward with the development of renewable energy. Rotmark is executive director of the Clallam Economic Development Council.

 

There need to be aggressive national standards, government support of green infrastructure development, implementation and enforcement of fuel efficiency and emissions rules, an establishment of green banks to finance projects and an implementation of carbon taxes, she said.

 

The potential for offshore wind power could open the door to new manufacturing and shipping possibilities for the peninsula, especially with the deep harbor in Port Angeles, Rotmark said.

 

The wind turbines are too large to move by rail or road, so manufacturing and shipping them from a deep port makes sense.

 

"We need to do it for us before it is done to us."

 

Rotmark said a renewable energy assessment is needed and people need to be thinking about how they can be involved.

 

Biomass

John Calhoun, a Port of Port Angeles commissioner and director of the University of Washington's Olympic Natural Resource Center, shared a feasibility study he recently completed on the potential for biomass to be produced on the peninsula.

 

Calhoun said the question was how much biomass potential is available on the peninsula.

 

Biomass is the burning of wood or similar waste to generate energy.

 

Calhoun's team took samples from, and measured, 30 piles of debris. During the study, there were 1,400 logging operations conducted. The results of the study will be released in December.

 

Calhoun said Port Angeles, Port Townsend, Forks, Shelton and Aberdeen are potential biomass centers.

 

Conservation

Mattias J?rvegren, utility services advisor for the Clallam County Public Utility District, emphasized the importance of conserving energy.

 

"The cheapest energy we have is the energy we don't use."

 

The PUD sent about 125,000 compact fluorescent lamps or bulbs to Clallam County residents to help achieve energy savings.

 

Deb Stinson, who participates in the Jefferson 20/20 sustainability group, spoke about the importance of what citizens can do to conserve energy.

 

In Jefferson County, 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions comes from transportation, 29 percent is industrial, 23 percent is from homes and 9 percent is commercial, she said.

 

"We all have a lot to do to reduce our emissions."

 

Stinson said there needs to be a balance between the ecological, economical and social impacts of energy use.

 

"There are things happening on a daily basis that are helping us reduce our footprint," she said.

 

Reach Amanda Winters at awinters@sequimgazette.com.

 

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