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Why Tacoma’s ‘juice’ sells big in California

Post by David Seago on March 4, 2008 at 5:19 pm with No Comments »
March 4, 2008 5:19 pm

Former Tacoma Utility Board member Bill LaBorde, now head of Environment Washington, corrects me on an earlier blog posting about tidal power on Puget Sound. Here’s Bill:

At the end of your posting you note that California’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) allows hydro to count as a renewable resource while I-937 does not. This is a common misconception that was fueled by the opponents to I-937 during the 2006 campaign.

The truth is that California’s RPS treats hydro not much differently than I-937. Both the California RPS and I-937 count “conduit hydroelectric” and the incremental increases in energy produced from efficiency improvements to existing dams. The only difference is that the California policy counts existing small-scale dams (under 30 megawatts) Tacoma’s dams, except for the Wynoochee dam, are all much larger and would not be eligible under California’s RPS. (More info here.)

Power generated by large-scale dams, like all but one of those owned by Tacoma, are not eligible under the California renewable standard (none of the mid-Columbia dams would count either).

We could have included small scale hydro as they do in California but we saw no reason to add a controversial element to the initiative when not a single utility asked for such a provision (we met with most of the state’s utilities before filing the final version of initiative). Not a single utility expressed any intention of building a new dam on during the 15-year horizon of this initiative.

The reason that surplus hydro owned by utilities like Tacoma is so valuable in California is not because of their RPS, it’s because of their limits on greenhouse gases. In fact, as we implement mandatory greenhouse gas limits here in Washington, hydro-owning utilities like Tacoma will see the price of existing hydro-power go up no matter I-937.

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