Posts Tagged ‘Oregon’


photo: Think

Not too many car factories are getting built in the United States these days, especially in the midst of a global economic meltdown. So the prospect of landing Norwegian electric carmaker Think’s North American plant will have Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski and Senator Ron Wyden turning out Tuesday to take a test drive of the Think City in Portland with company CEO Richard Canny.

Oregon is one of eight states Think is considering for the assembly plant. The company has been coy about identifying those states and has only said that Michigan and Oregon are in the running. About Tuesday’s media event, Think said in a statement that “the future of electric car manufacturing in Oregon will be the topic of a news conference.”

When it comes to electric car factories, there’s a certain Lucy yanking the football away from Charlie Brown risk for prospective hosts. Silicon Valley electric car company Tesla Motors, for instance, so far has signed and then canceled agreements to build a factory for its new Model S sports sedan in New Mexico and San Jose. Los Angeles, the latest factory site, hopes the third time’s a charm.

Nothing nefarious at work here, just the tenuous economics of startup electric car companies. Think, for example, is on the hunt for additional capital so it can restart its assembly plant in Norway. It idled the factory and laid off workers late last year when the credit crunch dried up funding. The company has some heavyweight backers, including General Electric (GE), and marquee venture capital firms Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Rockport Capital have invested in its North American operation.

Think says it will  apply for a low-interest loan from the U.S. Department of Energy under its Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program to help pay for its U.S. factory. Undoubtedly part of the bake-off with the eight states under consideration is to see which can offer the best tax breaks and incentives.

After the first-year startup phase, the U.S. factory will initially employ 300 workers and is projected to produce 16,000 cars annually, according to Think. Capacity would eventually be expanded to 60,000 cars and a workforce of 900. A research and development center will employ about 70 people.

Green Wombat is betting that Think will try to locate the assembly plant on the West Coast. So far Think has targeted densely populated, environmentally friendly cities — London, Amsterdam — to roll out the Think City, a two-seater urban runabout that goes about 112 miles on a charge.  Former CEO Jan-Olaf Willums told Green Wombat last year that the San Francisco Bay Area was a likely gateway market in the U.S. In November, the mayors of San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland inked a deal with Better Place to build a $1 billion electric car charging network in the Bay Area.

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Illustration: Principle Power

A Seattle-based renewable energy startup, Principle Power, has signed an agreement to build a deep-sea, 150-megawatt wind farm to be constructed on floating platforms off the Oregon coast.

The deal with the Tillamook Intergovernmental Development Agency – which includes the local utility for a coastal county west of Portland – is very early stage but foreshadows two technological trends in the wind industry: massive megawatt turbines placed on deep-ocean platforms.

Principle Power co-founder Jon Bonanno tells Green Wombat that each floating platform – called a WindFloat – will feature a 5-megawatt turbine. By contrast, the biggest biggest land-based turbines are typically 2.5 megawatts, while General Electric (GE) makes a 3.6-megawatt turbine designed for offshore use.

Bigger turbines offer better economies of scale (important given the steep cost of developing offshore wind farms), and since a deep-ocean wind turbine is not visible from the coast, they avoid the not-in-my-backyard fights that dog near-shore projects. (Clipper Windpower of Carpinteria, Calif., is developing a ten-megawatt monster for England’s Crown Estate, while European wind companies like Enercon has been testing turbines in the six megawatt range.)

“It’s becoming an increasingly important component of the mix in Europe,” says Ethan Zindler, head of North American research for New Energy Finance, a London-based firm. “I think a lot of it is conceptual at this point. There’s still a lot of barriers in turbine design and transport.”

Beyond the technological challenges of supersizing a turbine, there’s the issue of how to get a 300-foot-tall windmill out to sea without breaking the bank. Various wind companies are tackling the problem but Principle Power’s solution is to license the WindFloat technology from a Berkeley, Calif.-based startup called Marine Innovation & Technology. The company’s founders, who previously worked on offshore platforms for the oil industry, designed the WindFloat to be semi-submersible. “The design and size of the WindFloat enables the overall structure to be assembled onshore and towed to its final location, significantly reducing construction costs,” according to Principle Power.

“The WindFloat has undergone concept development validation through numerical modeling, third party engineering verification and extensive wave tank testing,” Bonanno said in an e-mail, noting that he expects a full-scale prototype to be built within a year.

Depending on the permitting process and Principle’s ability to obtain project financing, Bonanno anticipates the wind farm to be up and operating between 2013 and 2015.  Early estimates peg the cost of the wind farm at about $375 million.

Pat Ashby, the general manager of the 19,000-customer Tillamook People’s Utility District, says his utility has a capacity of 50 megawatts so it would most likely serve as an interconnection point to transmit electricity from the wind farm to the regional power grid. “Our substations are all along the coast,” he says. “There’s only a dozen miles or less to get to a substation.”

According to Ashby, the cost of laying a transmission line is about $1 million a mile. On the other hand, if the wind farm is too close to shore, residents will likely get riled up about the impact on their views. “We’ve already had an organized group come forward to express their concerns,” he says.

Bonanno notes that if the wind farm was placed five miles off the coast, the turbines would appear to be the size of a thumb from the shore; at ten miles they would not be visible.

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T. Boone Pickens and Texas may be the kings of Big Wind but California is catching up, buying gigawatts of green electricity from turbines planted on the windswept flatlands of … Oregon.

On Monday, Southern California Edison became the latest Golden State utility to look north, announcing a 20-year contract to buy a whopping 909 megawatts from Caithness Energy’s Shepherd’s Flat project. The 303-turbine wind farm will span two Oregon counties and 30 square miles when it goes online between 2011 and 2012. PG&E (PCG), meanwhile, signed a deal in July for 240 megawatts of wind power from Horizon Wind Energy’s turbine ranch in the same area. That’s on top of 85 megawatts it agreed to buy last year from PPM Energy (now called Iberdrola Renewables) in a neighboring county that’s part of a turbine tier of counties on Oregon’s northern border.  Earlier this month the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power approved a 72-megawatt contract with Willow Creek Energy for wind power from the same area in Oregon.

So why ship electricity a thousand miles down the West Coast when California already plans to add gigawatts of in-state wind energy?  In a word, transmission.

“The beauty of this particular project is that it is already fully permitted and has transmission already available,”  Stuart Hemphill, Southern California Edison’s (EIX) vice president for renewable and alternative power, told Green Wombat.

“Oregon has a terrific wind resource,” he adds. “It far exceeds that in California.”

In December 2006 the utility signed an agreement to purchase 1,500 megawatts from a giant wind farm to be built by a subsidiary of Australia’s Allco Financial Group in Southern California’s Tehachapi region. But the project is dependent on the construction of new transmission lines – often an environmentally contentious and drawn-out process in California.

“It is expected to go online in 2010,” says Hemphill of the wind farm. “We’re just getting the transmission project up and running. The first three segments have been approved and we’re doing the building now.”

With California’s investor-owned utilities facing a 2010 deadline to obtain 20% of their electricity from renewable sources, expect the Oregon green rush to continue.

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