Site Studies Begin on Washington’s Largest Solar Project

Neoen, a French independent renewable energy project developer, on Saturday began site studies for what would be the largest utility scale photovoltaic power plant in Washington state.

Neoen plans to build a 20-megawatt photovoltaic solar project in Benton County on land adjacent to the Hanford site. Project completion is scheduled for 2019 and Neoen is actively seeking potential customers for the solar electricity.

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Neoen is planning to build the 20 megawatt solar project on land just north of Richland, Wash.

“Neoen is very proud to be investing in a utility-scale solar project in Washington state. The project will be a competitive source of renewable energy, especially given the downward trend in the cost of solar technology. It is also the first step in Neoen’s long-term strategy in the U.S.,” said Romain Desrousseaux, Neoen Deputy CEO.

Neoen and Energy Northwest signed a lease option agreement on April 18 to lease up to 150 acres of the 300 acre site.

The Tri-City Development Council has been working with Neoen since 2014. The Tri-Cities is well-suited for solar energy because it has the available land, the infrastructure to support power projects and abundant sunshine. TRIDEC recently transferred the property to Energy Northwest, which is supporting the project’s development.

“This is exactly the type of project we envisioned when we began our effort to transfer Department of Energy land to the community for economic development,” said Carl Adrian, President and CEO of TRIDEC.

“The project further solidifies the Tri-Cities’ position as the energy hub for Washington state and confirms that the decision to transfer the land from DOE was correct.

“A huge thank you to Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and former Congressman Doc Hastings, for recognizing the economic potential the transferred land presents to the Tri-Cities,” Adrian added.

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Robert Hurler of Boden und Wasser performs geotechnical studies on Saturday at the site.

Neoen hired Energy Northwest, a generator of more than 1,300 megawatts of carbon-free
electricity for the region, to provide consulting and marketing support.

The geotechnical work that began this weekend will help determine the most viable site for the project.

Background on Land Transfer
On Sept. 30, 2015, the Department of Energy’s Richland Operations Office transferred 1,641 acres of the Hanford site to TRIDEC and the Tri-Cities community for economic development. The date for transfer was established in the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act

The TRIDEC-led land conveyance request began in 2010. The City of Richland, Port of Benton and Benton County worked closely with TRIDEC and DOE RL to meet all the requirements for transferring the property.

By the end of first quarter 2016, 1,341 acres had been further transferred at no cost (other than title transfer costs) to the City of Richland and Port of Benton for future economic development with a focus on growing the energy sector of the Tri-Cities’ economy.

TRIDEC transferred the remaining 300 acres to Energy Northwest with the understanding that approximately 100 of those acres would be made available for a solar energy project (view: Neoen Site Map). This project had been in negotiation for nearly two full years.

About Neoen
Founded in 2008, Neoen is an independent supplier of electricity from renewable energy (solar, wind and biomass) and is set to be the first French supplier to reach 1,000 MW of installed power. Neoen has a long term view development strategy and today Neoen operates in France, Australia, El Salvador, Mexico, Zambia, Mozambique, Jordan, Jamaica, Portugal and Ireland. Neoen’s main shareholders are Impala SAS (owned by Jacques Veyrat), the fund Capénergie II (managed by Omnes Capital) and BpiFrance.

Neoen aims to supply power in excess of 3,000MW by 2020, and is opening an office in Washington state to address the U.S. market.

Learn more at www.neoen.com

 

EVs – What’s not to like?

Carbon emissions from the transportation sector eclipsed emissions from the utility sector last February – the first time that’s happened since 1979. In Washington state, our electric utilities derive most of their power from low carbon sources, including hydro, nuclear and wind. Electrifying cars, trucks and buses will have a major impact on the state’s overall carbon footprint.

Imagine never filling up at a gas station again. Instead, simply pull into the garage and plug the car into a charging outlet. Adding to the convenience, electric car drivers dramatically reduce petroleum dependence, improve transportation sustainability, improve environmental stewardship, create jobs and help the economy.

What’s not to like about driving electric?

Are electric vehicles expensive?
The purchase price keeps going down and combined with an additional $7,500 tax incentive, you can buy a new EV for well under $8,000. And there is a growing “gently used” inventory as owners upgrade to newer models. Lease rates are also competitive – as low as $199 a month. (Find out more about incentives here.)

Are EVs expensive to operate?
After an average day of driving, electric cars fully charge for less than $1. The cars can be plugged into standard home electrical outlets, and electric cars typically charge at night when electricity demand is lowest. On a cost per mile basis, the operation of an EV is approximately one-third to one-quarter the cost of a gasoline-powered vehicle.

Since electric cars don’t have exhaust systems and don’t need oil changes, maintenance costs are relatively minimal. Brake wear is reduced thanks to regenerative braking, which sends the energy back to the battery. To maintain an electric car, just rotate the tires and keep them properly inflated.

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Robin Rego, generation project development manager, and Garrett Brown, Mid-Columbia Electric Vehicle Association president, discuss the benefits of driving an electric car during Energy Northwest’s Public Power Forum. (Mitch Lewis photo)

How efficient are electric cars?
Only 13 percent of the energy stored in a gallon of gasoline makes it to the wheels in a typical gasoline car. The rest of the energy is lost due to other factors like heat and friction. In a typical electric car, more than 52 percent of the energy used in charging the car goes to the wheels.

How safe are electric cars?
EVs have the standard safety features expected in conventional vehicles, such as anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, pre-tensioning seatbelts and airbags. Another common feature is a noise generator, which, in the absence of a conventionally fueled engine, creates noise to warn pedestrians when an EV is approaching.

Manufacturers have compensated for battery overheating by equipping electric cars with preventative technology, such as fuses and circuit breakers that can disconnect the battery when sensors detect an oncoming collision. Other measures include coolant systems, which keep the temperature low while the vehicle is running. The battery pack is located in the center of the car, on the bottom of the chassis and away from front and rear crumple zones.

Will electric utilities start to raise rates as more EVs start to use charging stations?
Utilities report negligible load growth due to the 2008 recession, conservation, energy efficiency and distributed generation (residential and community solar). EVs contribute to load growth and increasing sales will reduce the need for rate increases. Electric vehicles also enable utilities to increase load without adding new generation facilities.

How do charging stations help the local economy?
Hotels, shopping malls, wineries and other businesses that have installed charging stations have experienced an increase in business from customers waiting for their EVs to charge.

Energy Northwest is the facilitator for the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Transportation Alliance, which promotes public and private partnerships in developing charging stations throughout the service areas of local utilities in Benton and Franklin counties and along the major highways leading into the Tri-Cities area. EVITA comprises Benton and Franklin PUD, Benton Rural Electric Association and the City of Richland. Other cities, ports and chambers of commerce have signed letters of support for this venture. (See our blog post on EVITA here.)

Along with being convenient, good for the environment and the economy, safe and cost-effective; electric vehicles are sleek, quiet, clean and fast.

What’s not to like?

(Post by Robin Rego, EN generation project development manager, proud owner of an EV.)

EVITA could be a game changer

“We have to crawl before we can walk before we can run. But we have to start somewhere and we believe these fast charging stations are a good place to start.” – Robin Rego, Energy Northwest

Call it the “charging gap.” Electric vehicle owners know what it is – the distance between charging stations on the highway. On the West side of Washington state, mainly along the Interstate 5 corridor, the gap is relatively small, with Direct Current fast charging stations located every 40 to 60 miles, according to the West Coast Green Highway website.

Electric vehicle charging station sign isolated with sunset sky.But if travelling eastward, say to the Tri-Cities area, the gap gets wider and wider, limiting routes and, likely, opportunity for Westsiders to make a carbon-free trip to a favorite Mid-Columbia winery.

Enter EVITA, the acronym for a new project involving Energy Northwest, local utilities and the Tri-Cities Development Council. It is sponsored by the Mid-Columbia Energy Initiative, an industry collaboration effort.

EVITA stands for Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Transportation Alliance. The objective is to advocate for sustainable electric transportation infrastructure by promoting public/private partnerships in developing DC fast charging stations throughout the service areas of local utilities in Benton and Franklin counties, as well as along the major highways leading into the Tri-Cities area.

“We are focused on growing the (Energy Northwest) vision to support our member utilities with what their interests are, charging station infrastructure as an example, but also to stay on top of new technologies,” said Robin Rego, Generation Project Development manager. “Electric vehicles are a real part of storage. Storage is becoming much more important as people are focusing on renewables.”

Discussing EVITA

Alaxandria Von Hell (left) and Robin Rego, both of Energy Northwest, discuss an upcoming presentation to stakeholders on EVITA.

Rego says wind and solar, because they are intermittent, require storage to be most effective and it is becoming increasingly expensive and often not possible to use other fast responding resources like hydro and natural gas turbines to firm up renewables. Battery storage is in its infancy with electric vehicles essentially at the forefront of battery development. Energy Northwest brings its knowledge of battery storage technologies to the table, according to Rego.

Transportation versus utilities

As reported by Brad Plumer in Vox, the transportation sector in the U.S. recently passed the utility sector in carbon emissions. Plumer notes:

Over the long term, the real hope is that electric cars will catch on and help drive down overall emissions by relying more heavily on the quickly-greening power sector. Right now, electric vehicles are only 0.7 percent of the US car fleet, and turnover is fairly slow, but many analysts expect that falling battery prices should help speed up the shift by making EVs more cost-competitive with traditional vehicles.

Washington state has an enviable mix of carbon-free electricity generating resources, including all the assets operated by EN. Where the state struggles to reduce its carbon-footprint is the transportation sector, which makes up 50 percent of the state’s emissions.

The Energy Information Administration has figures from 2014 that show Washington state as an electric vehicle leader in the U.S. (see below). But in raw numbers, that’s not saying much. Washington has seven million registered cars and trucks on the road. The state’s goal is to have 50,000 electric vehicles or hybrids on the road by 2020.

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That’s where EVITA can help.

Benefits and challenges

The program involves deploying DC fast charging stations at participating businesses or organizations throughout the Mid-Columbia region. The stations will re-charge an electric vehicle in about 30 minutes. Compare that to a normal home re-charge which can take 8 to 20 hours to fully re-charge. The speed is a key attribute because EV owners will want to charge up and get back home. But with speed comes cost.

Installation of one station can run between $50,000 and $150,000. On the other side of the ledger is the potential for more customers for businesses, a tourism boost and increased electricity sales for utilities. But there are risks involved.

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A DC fast charging station.

Demand for public charging is relatively low and how quickly that will change is uncertain. Another risk is that little is known about the financial performance of EV charging station infrastructure.

Alaxandria Von Hell, with EN’s Generation Project Development and assisting on the project, believes it is worth finding out if there can be a path to success.

“Support of this project aligns with Energy Northwest’s core values. The expansion of EV charging station access is of valuable interest to EN’s member utilities and participants and is aligned with EN’s vision statement, to be a leader in energy solutions,” Von Hell said.

Ultimately, success rests with collaboration between a wide-ranging group of interested parties, including public and private utilities, charging station owners and operators, EV owners and government agencies. Participating utilities will be identifying potential charging station locations this summer and waiting to hear about any grant money available to offset costs.

If EVITA fulfills its promise, the program will open up a new gateway of carbon-free travel across the state.

Local utilities involved with the project include Benton PUD, Franklin PUD, City of Richland and Benton REA.

View a recent news story on EVITA by KEPR-TV in the Tri-Cities by clicking here.

(Posted by John Dobken)