November 10, 2005

Can the Northwest be energy independent again?

  • A movement is afoot to develop local renewable energy sources, such as wind power and biofuel.
    Special to the Journal

    Image courtesy BP
    BP is investing about $500 million on a cogeneration plant to supply its Cherry Point Refinery in Blaine.

    Over the last 30 years, the citizens of the Pacific Northwest have seen many changes in the ways we use and acquire energy. We have often been on the cutting edge of technology and have benefited from a political and social environment that is willing to accept change.

    Our energy sources have evolved from hydropower and nuclear in the late 1970s, to cogeneration, waste-to-energy and conservation in the 1980s and early 1990s, to the wind farms and biofuel facilities of today. Our community has enjoyed low-cost power generated by resources from within the state, but is now starting to depend on outside energy sources, including foreign ones.

    In addition to the diminishing availability of state-based energy resources, we have been experiencing climate changes, both locally and globally. These changes are far-reaching: Between inconsistent and decreasing rainfall in Washington, numerous wildfires throughout the West, and more than 20 hurricanes in the Atlantic this year, our region's ability to obtain reasonably priced energy supplies has been noticeably affected.

    The volatility of world governments, coupled with the desire for a dependable and predictable future are creating another "climate change" — one that is helping to promote development of alternative fuel sources both here and abroad.

    Energy independence

    AMEC and partner Foster Pepper & Shefelman are working to help our region become energy independent again. We are focusing our efforts on helping solve our local energy crisis by creating new, renewable, sustainable and greener Northwest-based energy sources such as wind and biofuel.

    For example, AMEC recently finished permitting for a 700-megawatt cogeneration facility in Bellingham and a 5,000-acre wind farm in Eastern Washington, and has been working on two liquid natural gas facilities on the Pacific Coast. Also, AMEC was recently commissioned by the National Guard to perform an energy audit of its installations in 30 states — which is expected to result in a 40 percent reduction in energy consumption.

    Foster Pepper recently represented Klickitat County on PPM Energy's 250-megawatt Big Horn Project. The law firm covers development, financing, due diligence, permitting, regulatory compliance and environmental review for energy projects.

    Washington state is well positioned to become a leader in biofuels. Our agricultural, industrial and research facilities create the synergy necessary to grow our biofuel production. Research is under way to identify how to convert agricultural products and byproducts into fuels. Research is also continuing on methane gas digesters, which can be fueled by dairy farm and feedlot waste.

    The benefits of biofuel

    The United States and Canadian governments are both funding research to produce biodiesel from waste vegetable oil, and ethanol from corn and cellulose materials. Ethanol products are usually 20 to 30 cents less per gallon than unleaded gasoline (at a base price of $2.39 a gallon), and their use results in a 60 percent reduction in net carbon dioxide emissions.

    Biodiesel emits 80 percent fewer hydrocarbons and 50 percent less particulate matter than gasoline. It also improves fuel economy and increases engine life without sacrificing performance. AMEC is helping Biox to build the world's first plant that will produce 60 million liters of biodiesel a year from palm oil, animal fats and waste restaurant oils. It will be located in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

    In addition to biodiesel, we want to focus on ethanol production. There are 226 ethanol stations in the United States, with 154 in Minnesota, 64 in Illinois, two in California, two in Washington, and one each in Oregon, Idaho and Nevada. With the assistance of readily available government funding, we will be able to assist in siting ethanol production facilities in Eastern Washington, pipelines throughout the state, and ethanol stations on every corner.

    AMEC and Foster Pepper & Shefelman are steadfast in our mission to help create this new market and resulting industry in the Northwest. Our goal is to help protect the Northwest from global oil price fluctuations and improve regional economic vitality. We are working to ensure that by the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, the Northwest will have a world-class international energy program.

    Sue Sander specializes in natural resources and planning at AMEC, and has practiced on the West Coast for over three decades. Lori A. Terry, a partner with the law firm Foster Pepper & Shefelman, practices in environmental, energy, land-use and environmental litigation.

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