Being the head of one of the largest power providers in the Western United States is no easy task. On one hand, you’ve got to keep access to power affordable for industry and the general population. On the other, sustainable sources for our electricity are urgently needed both from a resource scarcity standpoint and from an environmental one.
Enter in Pat Reiten—with one eye fixed firmly on the bottom line and the other on the green line, Reiten is steering Pacific Power to a sustainable future that everyone can afford—Mother Earth included. By investing in various existing sustainable technologies, such as wind, solar and geothermal, and also in new innovations, such as industrial scale, super-efficient battery cell technology, we’re well on our way to a sustainably powered eco-community.
In this issue of The Green Line Series, Reiten speaks with the Go Green Team about the transition to sustainable energy resources, where we’re headed and why voluntary public commitment to sustainability is crucial to achieving benchmarks for environmental well being.
GG: Power usage accounts for a huge amount of energy used in the United States; we’re wondering what Pacific Power is doing to transition from the limited resources of fossil fuels and into greener, renewable energy sources?
PR: Good question and the answer is: quite a lot. It’s important to understand from the get-go that PacifiCorp and Pacific Power are a part of Mid-American Holdings Company, which grew out of a pioneering geothermal power company (California Energy), so we’ve been in this space for a long time and still lead most of the utility world in terms of ownership of geothermal capacity—and are continuing to look there. But our most significant recent movement and leadership come from wind.
At the time Scottish Power sold PacifiCorp, and Mid-American Holdings Company purchased it, the company owned about 32.5 MW of wind capacity, including part of the Foot Creek Wind Project in East Wyoming. Today, we’ve added over 800 MW of renewable generation and most of that is wind and will end up in 2009 adding over 1300 MW on both a built and a purchased basis. That’s a huge investment in a short amount of time. It’s over $2 billion invested in just wind.
We’re also making investments in transition in order to create additional capacity to serve our customers with wind as well as facilitate additional wind development in the West. That transmission investment aims to add, over the next seven or eight years, 2000 line miles and cost $6.1 billion.
But the most objective measure, about how far we’ve come as a company, was reflected in last year’s American Wind Energy Association statistics that cited MidAmerican Holdings Company as the number one utility wind owner in the country. And we have some other things happening too. We continue to partner with the Energy Trust of Oregon, which administers Oregon’s Public Purpose Fund (three percent of large utilities gross revenues go into this fund), in order to spend that fund in a way that benefits our customers through energy efficiency and renewable investments. We are fully compliant with the State’s renewable portfolio requirements and will continue to do so, and will definitely be operating with 25 percent of our output coming from renewable energy sources by the year 2025.
GG: Are you mainly counting on wind to fulfill that goal? Or are the other new encouraging technologies coming onto the market?
PR: We’re pursuing all sort of different resources. For instance, we’re the largest purchaser of biomass output in the State of Oregon. We have geothermal resources in our portfolio in addition to wind. I heard a great phrase the other day: “It’s not about silver bullets, it’s about silver buck shots.” You’ve got to diversify and not put all your eggs in one basket.
So while the largest commercial opportunity for us right now to purchase renewable energy lie in wind, we have to back that up. For when the wind doesn’t blow, we’ve compensated by adding two new combustion gas plants. We can also pair wind with utility scale storage batteries, which would be a big leap forward in terms of finding a clean, non-emitting way to use intermittent resources like wind or solar.
GG: Let’s talk about consumer engagement and programs in place to push consumers and the market towards more renewable energy sources.
PR: We’re really proud of our Blue Sky program. That program allows customers to optionally pay a bit more on their bills in order to support renewable energy development. Then we use those additional revenues to purchase additional credits or certificates from small scale renewable energy development programs and match it with the consumption of each particular customer. We’re providing a direct incentive to those energy project developers to keep growing and we’re encouraging consumers who want to reduce their carbon footprint. It’s a great match. Also, as part of that program, we have a habitat option, which allows customers to also create funding for habitat restoration, working in conjunction with The Nature Conservancy.
GG: Are these programs popular? Are they working?
PR: Absolutely. Something special is happening here. Our program was the Utility Green Marketing Program of the year in 2007, as recognized by the federal EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) Department of Energy. We’re currently third in the country in the amount of energy put out and the number of customers participating. The EPA has a designation called “Green Community Partners” and they designated 24 cities around the country as those Green Community Partners. Twelve of those, so half, are in the PacifiCorp service territory and eight more are in the Pacific Power territory. There is clearly a real desire on behalf of our customers to voluntarily contribute to renewable energy programs and that ranges from your average single-family home customer to really big companies, such as the Portland Trail Blazers.
GG: Do you work with consumers and business to develop plans to decrease energy consumption?
PR: Absolutely. We encourage customers to engage in energy efficiency. We certainly want to provide good options for customers on that front, because not only do they reduce emissions when they employ those tactics, but they also save money. We encourage customers to look at the Pacific Power Website (www.pacificpower.net) and the Energy Trust of Oregon Website (www.energytrust.org) for options, suggestions and guidance on incentives.
That goes for businesses as well. For example, we were on the North Oregon Coast recently working with food processors and the Energy Trust of Oregon, working on ways to reduce energy use for storage. We’ve also put on numerous seminars this year, looking at more efficient motors and variable drives to air compression systems. There are just so many opportunities to increase energy efficiency and reduce emissions, and of course, save money.
Building upon some industrial and commercial seminars we did earlier in the year, we’re also partnering with Energy Trust to produce 14 energy efficiency seminars this October and November, from Astoria to Klamath Falls to Pendleton to Enterprise. Right here in Portland we’re working with Mayor Adams and other politicians to develop a pilot program for on-bill financing for energy efficiency that will target 500 households in the city of Portland. We’re trying to blanket the entire state and it’s all about saving energy and saving money.
Pat Reiten is a speaker the GoGreen ’09 Conference, October 7th, 2009 in Portland, Oregon. To hear more from Pat Reiten and our other 40+ eco-visionary speakers about how to turn your business a deep shade of green, register today at www.gogreenpdx.com/registration to get our early bird rate of $150 per person or $125 for groups of two or more (rates good through September 1, 2009.
For more information about Pat Reiten, Pacific Power and the Blue Sky Program, please visit: http://www.pacificpower.net