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Avista turning wind to power

Sat., Sept. 10, 2005

More than half of Avista Utilities’ future energy needs will be met with renewable energy sources like wind power, plus upgrades to existing power plants and conservation measures, the company said in a new planning document.

Every two years, Avista puts together a 20-year look at how it will meet customer energy needs in the future. In 2003, the company said it planned to add 75 megawatts of wind to its resource portfolio over the next 20 years. In the new plan, the company says it wants to add 650 megawatts of wind power by 2026. In addition, Avista plans to add about 180 megawatts of power from biomass, namely the burning of wood, manure or the methane gas given off by landfills.

“It’s over a tenfold increase in renewables,” said Clint Kalich, Avista’s manager of resource planning.

That growth primarily reflects the maturation of the wind power industry, Kalich said. “Costs have come down as turbines have gotten larger,” he said. That change, coupled with rising costs for natural gas and oil, have made wind power more appealing.

“With rising commodity costs for traditional resources, and falling costs for renewable resources, they come together to where the economics start to look favorable for renewable projects,” Kalich said.

One of the leading conservation groups in the Northwest said Avista’s new plan is a “significant improvement” over 2003, when the company was relying too heavily on coal. Compared to the plan released in 2003, the company’s planned use of coal has declined by almost half over the forecast 20-year time period.

“Avista … is balancing its portfolio and has increased its energy efficiency and its renewables and decreased its proposed dependence on coal, and we think that makes great sense,” said Sara Patton, executive director of the NW Energy Coalition. “We’re really happy to see it.”

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council estimates the potential for wind generation in the Northwest to be about 5,000 megawatts, enough to power 3.2 million homes, Avista said in its plan. Five investor-owned utilities, including Avista, collectively plan to use about half of that in the future.

Since Avista’s last resource plan was released in 2003, the company signed a contract with the Stateline wind farm to buy 35 megawatts, enough to power more than 20,000 homes. Prior to that, the company had purchased wind, but in much smaller amounts, said spokesman Hugh Imhof.

Also, in the past two years, Avista acquired an additional 140 megawatts of power through the purchase of a half-share in an Oregon gas-fired power plant. The 2003 plan had called for the acquisition of an additional 145 megawatts of energy through natural gas plants.

“The company does use these plans to make resource acquisitions,” Kalich said. “It’s a guide for us … to identify the preferred resources the company will use to meet customer needs.”

And those needs will grow in the coming years.

In Washington, Idaho and Oregon, Avista will serve 350,000 electric customers in 2007 and nearly 485,000 by 2026. Some 135,716 new jobs are forecast for Spokane, Kootenai and Bonner counties by 2026, a 61 percent increase from 2004, according to the plan. Electric sales are forecast to grow by 2.1 percent annually.

The growth will result in Avista not having enough resources to meet future needs on its own by 2010, when demand will exceed supply by five megawatts, the plan says. That deficit rises to 640 megawatts by 2026.

Avista proposes meeting that deficit through increased conservation measures, greater use of renewable energy resources, upgrades to existing facilities and sources such as coal.

Conservation measures include promoting more energy efficient light bulbs and offering rebates when customers buy more energy efficient appliances. As for upgrades, the company believes its Noxon Rapids Dam in Montana will produce an additional 45 megawatts if aging turbines are replaced. And improvements to the Colstrip coal-fired power plant in Montana, in which Avista has a 15 percent share, should reap an additional eight megawatts of power.


 

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