There have been a couple of interesting energy stories in the news for the last few days. First, from BC comes this story, about what happened when the provincial electric utility asked for proposals to ramp up generating capacity in the province:
Green power projects, including small hydro and wind facilities, comprise the overwhelming majority of private-sector bids submitted to BC Hydro in an ambitious call for new sources of electricity for British Columbia…more than twice the amount Hydro was expecting when it issued an open call for tenders last December, and equivalent to about 10 per cent of B.C.’s existing electricity supply.
Now, obviously, not all of that capacity will be built, at least not at first; but it’s still a promising development that so many green-power proposals were tendered. The bigger news, perhaps, was that not a single new natural gas power plant was proposed. Not one. Apparently, the high and fluctuating price of natural gas is making it harder for such plants to pencil out. What a change from a few years ago, when, in the wake of the 2001 power crisis—and despite all the press attention that new wind farms got—the Pacific NW added 17 times as much generating capacity from natural gas as from wind power.
And then (hat tip to Matt Leber) comes this news: the Seattle Steam company, which generates heat for a number of the buildlings in the downtown core, is planning to switch from natural gas burners to wood. At some level this is troubling; burning wood for energy didn’t do the forests of New England any good. But Denmark has had good success with heat & power plants that run from biomass; so perhaps this isn’t something to worry about yet. To add to the good news, Seattle Steam is considering adding combined heat-power facility to its other downtown plant. They’re massively efficient, since the residual heat that’s left over after the power is generated can be used to warm local buildings. If a combined heat-power plant designed right, less than 10 percent of the energy is wasted, compared with 40-65 percent for conventional plants.