Having dragged on for more than two years, the effort by the City of Portland to get all of its municipal electricity via wind power is officially dead—for now.
In 2005, Jeff Cogen (who was then City Commissioner Dan Saltzman's chief of staff, and is now a county commissioner) led talks with PPM Energy that would have seen the City of Portland powered by wind farms, costing as much or less than what the city currently pays for the "dirty" energy that fuels government needs. But that process immediately hit some major obstacles: PPM was gobbled up by international energy companies—twice—making negotiations difficult, and the price of steel skyrocketed, increasing the cost of producing the wind turbines.
A couple of weeks ago, the whole shebang was called off. Now, the city is going to put out another Request for Proposals (RFP) to start from scratch—this time, it'll be broad enough to allow for flexibility during talks, and the county may also be on board. It's still early in the process (the RFP hasn't even been written), but there are already some hints as to what the future may hold. Sherman County, in north-central Oregon, wants to partner with the city directly to build and operate the wind turbines, and transmit the electricity to Portland. That could mean the city maybe entering the electricity business, eschewing an electrical company middleman.
"That's an exciting prospect," Cogen says, "but it's by no means a done deal or definitely the direction we're going."
There's also a more traditional possibility: Both PPM and Portland General Electric (PGE) have expressed an interest in bidding for the new contract. Interestingly, when the original idea was put together, PGE was said to not have shown much interest in wind energy. Two years later, they're now operating their own wind farms, and could easily start supplying the city government.
According to Saltzman's chief of staff, Brendan Finn, there's another plan in the works to partially power the city through solar panels on the roofs of city-owned buildings, similar to a project Cogen is starting at the county. The goal would be to get 70 percent from wind and 30 percent from solar, and any surplus energy would get sold back into "the grid."