California eyes Oregon wind power


California, whose laws require it to get 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2010, has its eyes on Oregon's growing wind power industry.

"They're certainly trying to grab it everywhere they can," said Lee Beyer, chairman of the Oregon Public Utility Commission.

The Los Angeles Department of Water Power and Pacific Gas Electric in San Francisco are among those securing long-term contracts for wind power in Oregon and Washington.

California already imports hydropower in the summer; Oregon and Washington take deliveries from California generators in cold winter months.

But Oregon and Washington also face clean energy laws and want the energy too.

New energy will cost more than the cheap hydroelectric power that has kept Northwest electric rates among the country's lowest. Local utilities will have to outbid California for wind power, which could make it more expensive still.

Californians pay on average more than half again as much as Oregonians for electricity.

PacifiCorp, which operates Oregon's Pacific Power, owns several wind farms in the Northwest and Wyoming and is building more. That power stays local, in part to parry California's influence in the marketplace by producing its own power.

"We're not going to enter into a bidding war with a PGE (in San Francisco) or a Southern California Edison," said Scott Bolton, PacifiCorp's director of government affairs. "What's cost effective for them is not cost effective for us."

Portland General Electric, Oregon's largest utility, has taken a similar position.

Even so, both utilities buy from semi private developers, and PGE will announce several new contracts this fall. PGE and Pacific Power together account for almost 70 percent of the state's energy use.

Oregon law requires a 25 percent contribution from renewables by 2025 but only 5 percent by 2011, less ambitious than California.

California's requirements increase to 33 percent in 2020. Energy from dams doesn't count toward the requirements in any Western state. Wind, solar, biomass and geothermal do but as of now wind energy is the most affordable and available.

PGE and PacifiCorp have met the 5 percent requirement, utility officials said.

San Francisco's PGE would need 2,400 megawatts of wind to meet the 2010 requirement, if that were the only renewable source. That's more than the total capacity of Oregon and Washington's wind farms.

The utility serves more than 5 million customers and prefers in-state purchases because transmission and other costs tend to be lower but they will make other deals if the terms are right.

"We're aggressively adding renewables," said Jennifer Zerwer of Pacific Gas Electric. Renewables account for about 12 percent of PGE's electricity. "We're on track" to meet the 2010 goal of 20 percent, she said.

The utility has secured 175 megawatts from the 300-megawatt Klondike III wind farm in Oregon's Sherman County and the entire output of the 103-megawatt Rattlesnake Road project in Gilliam County. A megawatt, adjusted for wind's variability, will supply about 300 homes for a year. Prices are rising.

PGE also has signed a contract to buy 120 megawatts of geothermal energy from a project near central Oregon's Newberry Crater if it is built.

Iberdrola, Horizon Wind Energy and other wind power developers are scrambling to meet the surge in demand.

"We're here to sell all over the Western markets," said Jan Johnson, an Iberdrola spokeswoman. California utilities are "motivated buyers," she said.

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