October 25, 2010

Interview with Erin Johnston of Energy Trust of Oregon

Erin Johnston has an impressive work history.  Up until October 15th of this year, Erin’s work focused on wind energy projects as a Renewable Energy Project Manager for Energy Trust of Oregon (ETO).  Before Energy Trust, Erin worked at Navigant Consulting where she performed engineering analysis and technical report writing for various clients, including the…

Erin Johnston has an impressive work history.  Up until October 15th of this year, Erin’s work focused on wind energy projects as a Renewable Energy Project Manager for Energy Trust of Oregon (ETO).  Before Energy Trust, Erin worked at Navigant Consulting where she performed engineering analysis and technical report writing for various clients, including the U.S. Department of Energy, Natural Resources Canada, and NYSERDA, in support of their appliance efficiency standards programs.  Erin has a Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering degree from Princeton University.  Even though Erin is leaving Energy Trust for GL Garrad Hassan, she was kind enough to visit with IREC about Energy Trust’s small wind work.  Here’s that conversation.

IREC:  Erin, has ETO’s small wind program been in the works for a while?

EJ:   Actually, the Small Wind program was launched in November 2007.  Energy Trust provided support and incentives to small wind projects before Nov. 2007, but there wasn’t a standard incentive, forms, or any program rules and requirements beyond the general Energy Trust rules and requirements for renewable energy projects.  Energy Trust also did not actively market small wind systems to potential owners.

IREC:  But in just three years, it’s proven to be very successful, would you agree?  To what do you attribute its rapid success?

EJ:  Yes, I would say that it has been a successful program.  The small wind industry in Oregon was almost non-existent before Energy Trust launched the program.  Now, we have 15 systems installed, 20 systems that should be installed before the end of the year, 20 installers in the Energy Trust Trade Ally network, and the Oregon Small Wind Energy Association.  I think the rapid success stems from the dedicated support network: Energy Trust, Oregon Department of Energy, local small wind turbine manufacturers, and, of course, the installers.  Having so many knowledgeable resources allows a homeowner or business owner to learn about small wind and make good decisions about whether a small wind system is right for them.  Energy Trust holds regular small wind workshops, and those workshops, in combination with community members seeing systems go up in their area, do a great job of getting the word out about the possibilities of small wind.

IREC:  So let’s talk a little bit more about the systems.  Since its inception, some 15 systems have been installed, with 20 more in the queue.  What’s the breakdown of turbines?  Are there more individual systems, or more small groups of turbines?  And how much generation has been installed to date?

EJ:  The largest turbine installed is 20kW and the largest turbine in the queue is a 100 kW machine.  The smallest system is 2.4kW (all of the installations have been individual systems). The 15 small wind systems installed total about 127 kW.

IREC:  Nice.  I’m guessing Energy Trust has a list of approved turbines for this program.  And will you be requiring turbines to be SWCC-certified?

EJ:  Yes, we have a list of approved turbines, and beginning on January 1, 2012, all turbines eligible for Energy Trust funding must be certified by an independent certification body such as the SWCC or Germanischer Lloyd. Some turbines that fall under the category of “small wind turbines” are too large to be certified under AWEA 9.1-2009 or IEC 61400-2 standards.  Those turbines must be certified to the applicable sections of the IEC 61400 standard.

IREC:  Can you talk a little bit about the anemometer loan program?  What’s the initial screening process like, and do you have lots of takers?

EJ:  The anemometer loan program has evolved over the years.  Currently, Energy Trust offers incentives for tall meteorological towers, generally 60 meters, and the recipient of the incentive owns the tower but provides the wind data collected to Energy Trust and the data becomes public.  These tall towers are used for potential larger, megawatt scale wind developments.  We provide incentives for 2 – 4 tall towers per year.

Energy Trust also provides anemometer loans for shorter (30 meter) towers, as well.  Energy Trust owns these towers, and usually loans them for a year at a time.  The Energy Resources Research Laboratory at Oregon State University (OSU) administers the short tower loan program for Energy Trust.  Currently, there are 3 towers available through the loan program.

The initial screening process for both the tall towers and the short towers involves making sure the applicant has site control, that the site has good wind based on wind maps, that the necessary permits can be or have been obtained, and generally making sure the applicant is serious about developing a wind project.  Usually Energy Trust will have OSU take a look at the proposed site to determine suitability for wind resource measurement.

IREC:  Has this had an impact on the quick success and acceptance of the program?

EJ:  Energy Trust uses a wind map to verify that the annual average wind speed at hub height for a proposed project meets our requirements.  The data gathered from meteorological towers allowed us to verify that the wind map correlated closely enough with actual data.  This gave us a degree of confidence in using wind maps instead of measuring the wind at a site (previous to the Small Wind program, the wind had to be measured on site for a year).

IREC:  So what would you say has been the program’s biggest success?

EJ:  I think the growth of the program over the last three years has been the biggest success.  There were only two small wind systems that received an Energy Trust incentive in 2008, the first full year of the program.  This year, we’ve already had eight systems installed, and we expect 20 more to be installed before the end of the year.

IREC:  Wow! That’s some growth.  But I have to ask… what’s been the biggest obstacle?

EJ:  Permitting has probably been the biggest obstacle.  Permitting requirements vary for each county, and some of the permitting processes are lengthy and expensive.  In some counties it is impossible to install small wind systems because of height restrictions.

Energy Trust has worked with a few counties on a small wind zoning ordinance and has just finished Small Wind Permitting Considerations: Information for Local Governments and Communities, a document that explains the technology and benefits of small wind, presents common misconceptions about small wind, and lays out permitting best practices.  The hope is that eventually permitting small wind systems will be a smoother and more standard process throughout Oregon.

IREC:  I know you’re leaving Energy Trust Oregon for GL Garrad Hassan—congratulations.  But before you leave, I’d love to know what’s surprised you the most with this work?

EJ:  The support and excitement about small wind has been a pleasant surprise to me. I get quite a few phone calls every day from homeowners and businesses that are interested in a small wind system.  Recently, I went to watch the installation of a small wind system on a farm, and there was a crowd of people from the community, all of whom were thrilled to see the system go up.  Most installers are proactive about attending trainings and becoming more knowledgeable about small wind.  The Oregon Small Wind Energy Association is active and has a great membership base.  It is wonderful to see the industry developing.

IREC:  And for the program?  What’s the focus?

EJ:  For the Energy Trust Small Wind program, I think the focus will be continuing to develop the industry in Oregon and break down the barriers to small wind.  Small wind is still a young industry in Oregon, and I expect it can grow and flourish as the benefits of small wind become better known.

IREC:  Thanks, Erin, for making time to visit with us about your work at Energy Trust. I’m sure you’ll be missed, but best wishes to you in your new work.  Who will be taking your place, and where can people find you?

EJ:  Thank you!  Energy Trust has not hired a replacement yet, but for now, you can contact Betsy Kauffman at [email protected].  I hope to stay involved in the small wind world, so feel free to contact me at [email protected].