P.O. Box 500
1492 Wind River Hwy
Carson, Washington 98610

Pay by Phone (Available 24-hours): 844-936-2697
Phone: 509-427-5126
Toll-Free 800-922-5329

Manager’s Message October-November 2013

The year before I came to the PUD, I was teaching an Energy Systems course to Sr. level electrical engineering students at WSU Vancouver.  One of the topics taught was Renewable Energy.  I was surprised to discover that these engineering students, nearly ready to graduate with Bachelor of Science degrees, were not thinking critically (like engineers should) when we studied renewable energy.  Instead they had accepted the view of renewable energy commonly portrayed in main stream media.  They failed to question that perspective or to dig deeper.

Let me ask some questions that I asked of my students.  Why do wind farms continue to require government subsidies in order for investors to continue to build them?  Is an electric vehicle really a zero emission means of transportation?  If solar energy is the next great renewable energy source, why don’t you have a solar array on your roof today?  One-liners won’t do these questions justice but let me give you a flavor of what you will find if you dig deeper into and think more critically about renewable energy.

Some realities of renewable energy are:  Wind – Production wind turbines are very expensive to manufacture relative to the amount of energy they will produce in their mechanical lifetime.  Wind farms require expensive power transmission lines to move the energy they generate from the wind farms to the cities.  When government subsidies for wind are in question, new wind farm construction grinds to a halt.  All-electric vehicles – Electricity is not the energy source of an electric vehicle.  Electricity is merely the means to transfer the actual energy source that propels the vehicle.  In 2011 about 68% of the US electricity was generated from fossil fuels.  So, all-electric vehicles are primarily powered by fossil fuel.  Solar – Solar power does not yet stand as an economically self-reliant energy source; one reason for this is solar panels are extremely energy intensive to manufacture.  Using today’s technology, solar panels require about as much energy to manufacture as they will produce in their useful lifetime.

Does this mean renewable energy sources will never provide the majority of our energy needs?  No!  But forcing a transition to these sources faster than the scientists and engineers overcome the technical challenges has the potential to create economic and energy difficulties that we are beginning to experience already.  Our present petroleum based energy infrastructure took a century to build; can we expect to make it obsolete in only a couple of decades?  So when our governor presses his renewable energy policies, I hope we will not just get excited about the advertised environmental benefits but also seriously consider the economic realities and technical hurdles facing today’s renewable energy sector. 

Brent Bischoff, General Manager