Clean Power

Published on August 22nd, 2011 | by Susan Kraemer


Washington State Considers Including Hydro as a Renewable Under RPS

August 22nd, 2011 by  

Every state that has a Renewable Energy Standard (RES) – or Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) as these mandates were originally called – has slightly different rules regarding hydro power.

Few included hydro or grandfathered-in a consideration of the existing hydro when considering whether a utility is complying with the RES by adding enough renewable power to the grid. Most hydro was built in the 19th century and the idea was to add more new clean energy.

In addition, there was some concern that hydro generated methane as trapped vegetation rotted in reservoirs, making hydro a dirtier kind of clean energy (a supposition that is now under reconsideration, incidentally). Nuclear is also excluded in state RES mandates because of the ongoing requirement for fuel (uranium) and the disposal issues.

But that may be about to change, according to a report at Energy Prospects. At least one state’s legislature is considering including hydro: the very wet state of Washington, in the rainy Northwest. Attempts to include hydro have been made in the last three legislative sessions and a fourth attempt next session has the blessing of the Public Utility District.

Their relatively recent RPS – just begun in 2006 – requires utilities to add 15% renewable energy or credits by 2020, excluding hydro power. The mandate starts with a low bar, requiring just 3% by 2012.

With its abundance of hydropower, Washington state would already exceed the current renewable mandates if hydro were counted. The state would be second only to Maine in hydro power nationally. (Maine gets 30% from hydro and 22% from other clean energy sources) Supporters cite the attractiveness to investors from Europe who are under the EU mandates on carbon.

BMW built a carbon fiber plant in the state, touting the clean hydro power that supplies its manufacturing in Washington. But other EU companies compare the state with states like California that are already virtually as clean powered as a Germany or a Sweden with between 18% and 19% clean power now (not counting nuclear or hydro power), overlookng states like Washington that are nowhere near that goal. But supporters believe that by including hydro, the state can advertise itself as a clean powered state.

However, if hydro were to be included, there would be no incentive to add new renewable power, with such a low target, as the standard will have been met. Utilities want to avoid adding more power.

“If we experience minimal load growth, as we are in this economy” says Doug Nass, general manager of the PUD, “we are then required to replace that very affordable clean power with power that is three to four times more costly, even if we don’t need the power.”

Of course already capitalised and paid-for power plants will produce power cheaper than yet to be built ones. We usually see this argument from the traditional sources of energy, as if rail-fed coal fires are somehow intrinsically cheaper than fuel-free wind or solar.

But now we are starting to see the same argument from the other renewables: the ones that were already paid for long, long ago, indicating that it is not that traditional fossil energy is intrinsically cheaper, but simply that existing plants are.

The next session in Washington State may be a deciding vote.

Susan Kraemer@Twitter

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About the Author

writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today and Renewable Energy World.  She has also been published at Wind Energy Update, Solar Plaza, Earthtechling PV-Insider , and GreenProphet, Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times.    Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.

  • Europeans are dumbfounded that U.S. exclude hydro power from a renewable’s portfolio and go to great expense to develop wind farms which, in Maine, are increasingly opposed by towns. This fall, five adopted ordinances which are highly restrictive to the point where where major wind farmers are canceling projects.

    Maine’w once thriving economy was once built around hydropower. It first powered industry mechanically; and later electrically. Central Maine Power company was created in the 30’s and 40’s as an aggregate of the many local power generators to export electrical energy to Boston.

    Not only does Maine have approximately 2,000 water mill sites, many of which are powered by both flowing and tidal water; but a power grid which is localized and flows outward from generating points. No new R.O.W. corridors needed.

    The first restoration of a tidal mill is now underway in Kennebunkport and it is a consensus of the TIDE MILL INSTITUTE that as long as there is a moon and an ocean we will have tidal energy as a source of power…..NOW THAT’s A RENEWABLE!

    • Anonymous

      If Maine can supply the clean power it needs from hydro and do so without screwing up its environment then why not?

      There’s no rule that wind must be used. And hydro/tidal, done right, has some major advantages.

      But we should be careful to determine if there really is hydro that can be used without environmental damage and watch to make sure that fossil fuel interests and anti-wind groups aren’t just using the idea of hydro as a way to postpone the move away from coal for electricity.

      Don’t forget, throwing down a bright, shiny object to distract is a favorite right wing tactic….

  • This article should have clarified three points:

    1) Doug Nass is the General Manager of the Clallam Public Utility District (not just “The Public Utility District,” as there are many PUDs in Washington. The article might have also mentioned for the benefit of people who don’t live in WA that PUDs are in fact electric utilities. So the PUD here is giving its “blessing” to a regulatory change that will save it money. That’s not particularly surprising.

    2) According to the EIA, Hydropower already accounts for about 70% of Washington’s total electric generation (it fluctuates annually since it depends on water; over the last 20 years, it’s provided between 79% and 87% of generation; last year for which data is available was 69% in 2009). So including hydropower in the RPS as written would make its 20% target essentially meaningless

    3) Washington’s RPS already does include some hydropower: utilities can get credit for efficiency upgrades at existing facilities. Efficiency upgrades are *new* power from the same water.

    The problem Mr. Nass identifies is real, and Washington is going to need to crack the nut of how hydropower fits into its RPS. But it needs to be really careful in how it goes about it. If the goal of the WA RPS is to wean the state off of fossil fuels, then allowing existing hydropower to count would totally undermine that goal unless the target was set sufficiently high (i.e. greater than 80%). Otherwise it’s just an exercise in semantics. If the goal is to diversify the state’s energy mix and make new energy technologies more affordable, then allowing ANY existing energy source (hydro or not) to count would be a problem.

  • Anonymous

    Not sure about the numbers. Washinton state is over 80% hydro power, with Nuclear being 2nd, and coal and natural gas bringing up the rear.

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