The Wheatridge Renewable Energy Facility in eastern Oregon was commissioned last week. It is the fourth and largest hybrid wind, solar, and battery storage facility in America (so far). There are many projects that combine wind and storage or solar and storage, but few that utilize all three.
The advantages are obvious. Wind turbines can generate electricity whenever the wind blows, whereas solar panels function best when the sun is shining. Adding in battery storage means none of the electricity produced is wasted (curtailed, in utility industry jargon). But perhaps the biggest advantage of such hybrid systems like Wheatridge is that there only needs to be one transmission line connecting it to the larger grid. Transmission lines can often represent one of the most costly features of a renewable energy hub.
Wheatridge was built by NextEra Energy Resources for use by the Portland General Electric. It includes a 200 MW wind farm, a 50 MW solar array, and a 30 MW/120 MWh battery. Together, the three components can supply enough electricity for about 100,000 homes.
In a press release, Oregon governor Kate Brown said, “It’s because of projects like Wheatridge that Oregon is leading the way in growing our clean energy economy. Under my administration, Oregon has taken a comprehensive approach to reducing our carbon emissions and moving Oregon towards 100% clean energy on one of the most ambitious timelines in the nation. I firmly believe we can move to 100% clean electricity sources and create good-paying jobs in rural Oregon at the same time.
“The urgency of getting clean energy projects online could not be clearer. Extreme heat, wildfires, drought, and winter storms — we are seeing the impacts of climate change in Oregon, with some of the biggest impacts in rural Oregon,” she added. “Thanks to the Biden-Harris Administration, we now have the opportunity to pursue federal funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act to create clean energy jobs throughout the state.”
Mark Bolinger of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is co-author of a series of reports about hybrid renewables, the most recent of which was published in August. He tells Inside Climate News that there are several advantages that such hybrid facilities provide. First, it is less complicated for a company to obtain leases for one big piece of land in one jurisdiction than to do so in several different places, which reduces project costs.
Second, the various components can share the same interconnection point to the grid, which also reduces costs. Developers often face long wait times to get the approval they need to connect new projects to the grid. It helps that a hybrid project can have two or three components that only need to apply for one grid connection. Again, the result is lower costs for developers. Power from Wheatridge will reach PGE customers via a new transmission line constructed by Umatilla Electric Cooperative that connects with the Bonneville Power Administration’s regional high voltage grid.
Finally, once completed, a hybrid project needs fewer employees to maintain and service it if all the parts are next to each other. The Wheatridge facility provided 300 jobs during the construction phase but needs only 10 employees to operate the hybrid renewable energy plant.
“By supporting innovative projects like Wheatridge, we continue to accelerate renewable energy solutions for our state, communities and customers, while maintaining reliability and affordability,” said Maria Pope, CEO of Portland General Electric (not to be confused with PG&E, the utility that services northern California). “This partnership marks a technological milestone in decarbonizing our system and making clean energy accessible to all Oregonians.”
While is makes perfect sense to include battery storage as part of the Wheatridge facility, the main reason it was included in the early planning for the project is that until the Inflation Reduction Act was enacted and signed into law this summer, standalone battery storage was not eligible for federal clean energy tax credits. The new law now makes such battery storage facilities eligible for tax credits of up to 30%.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of Wheatridge and the projects like it that will follow. America must decarbonize its electrical supply if it wants to have any hope of reducing the danger of raging forest fires and more powerful storms like Hurricane Ian that rampaged through Florida a few days ago.
It should be pointed out that not one single Republican member of Congress voted in favor of the Inflation Reduction Act, which should tell you all you need to know about what will happen if those reactionaries seize control of Congress in November. Vote as if your grandchildren’s lives depend on the outcome, because they do.
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