Avista Corp. and several partners would make a $38 million investment in technology and equipment in Pullman if a $178 million five-state demonstration project is a winner in a national competition for federal stimulus grants that would cover half the cost of such projects.
Avista, Itron Inc., of Spokane, and Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories Inc., of Pullman, are part of a group that has put together the $38 million Pullman project, which would be part of the much larger five-state smart-grid demonstration project.
That bigger project would extend roughly 1,000 miles from Fox Island, in Puget Sound, to the Teton Mountains, in western Wyoming, and would involve 15 test sites with diverse weather, terrain, and demographics.
The U.S. Department of Energy says development of a national smart grid, using modern telecommunications and computer systems, would improve management of the nation's electrical grid greatly, allowing demand and supply to be brought much more closely into balanceand enabling adjustments in near real time to keep them that way. DOE says it hopes that the demonstration projects ultimately would lower energy costs, reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, increase power grid reliability, and give consumers more flexibility.
Avista declines for now to say how much money its partners would spend in the Pullman project, but a company fact sheet says Avista would contribute $12.9 million of the cost. Also, the fact sheet claims, "The city of Pullman would become the region's first smart-grid community."
The project would involve all 14,000 metered customers served by Avista's power stations there, plus the sprawling campus of Washington State University and the nearby rural village of Albion, says Curt Kirkeby, an Avista senior technology and strategy engineer who's responsible for smart-grid projects.
Avista says that in addition to Itron and Schweitzer, its partners in the Pullman project include WSU; Spirae, a Fort Collins, Colo., company that models power grids and controls to integrate renewable energy supplies and customer response capabilities; and HP-EDS, the technology services arm of Hewlett-Packard Co., of Palo Alto, Calif., which would provide information technology services.
Kirkeby says the Pullman project would involve use of Itron's well-known automated utility meter-reading technology, which can provide individuals and business customers with ways to manage their energy use while giving utilities near real-time load tracking.
The technologies used in the project would include "self-healing circuits" that would give the distribution system the ability to reconfigure itself during a power outage to serve as many people as possible, says Heather Cummins, Avista's director of smart-grid projects.
Kirkeby says many utilities today still learn of outages only when customers call to report them, although Avista developed the first GIS-based system capable of pinpointing outages, and that technology, already in use in Pullman and elsewhere in Avista's service area, would be used in the Pullman project.
Major new buildings are being developed at WSU's campus, which would allow incorporation of the latest in energy-management technology in the structures, allowing creation of a so-called "smart community" at the campus in the Pullman project, Kirkeby says.
"We plan to leverage the university and their assets and provide educational opportunities that are probably one of a kind" for students, he says. "What we're trying to apply is all of the technologies that are reasonable to apply. We have a lot of engineering calculations behind it that say it's reasonable."
The Pullman project "is not far-fetched," Kirkeby says, adding, "We use these technologies" already. An example, he says, is the software that senses during an outage where electricity still can be routed and where it should be shut off.
Avista's fact sheet on the Pullman project says, "We plan to apply proven technology that will allow the system to adjust automatically to changes in electric demand and supply, and prepare the electric distribution system for future technologies. Electric customers will experience the opportunity to monitor energy to use it more efficiently, at less cost. Ultimately, the project will move the region and nation closer to establishing a more efficient and effective electricity infrastructure that's expected to help contain costs, reduce emissions, incorporate more wind power and other types of renewable energy, increase power grid reliability, and provide greater flexibility for consumers."
Schweitzer, a maker of electrical system protection, monitoring, and control equipment, is interested in testing some of the equipment at its campus, Kirkeby says.
The group of energy providers, utilities, vendors, and research organizations that has proposed the five-state demonstration project will learn in December whether the Department of Energy will approve the proposed project for stimulus money, which would be provided under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Battelle, which operates the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, announced the five-state project on Aug. 27. Kirkeby says PNNL's involvement in the project added formidable computerized analytical, or number-crunching, capability.
The project would involve more than 60,000 metered customers in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, and Wyoming and more than 112 megawatts of power supply, or enough to meet the needs of 86,000 households, Battelle says. Twelve utilities, ranging from investor-owned utilities such as Avista to municipal utilities, rural electrification cooperatives including Inland Power & Light Co., of Spokane, and public utility districts would be involved in it.
Kirkeby says that during the first 2 1/2 years of the Pullman project, the infrastructure for the project would be put in place, and observations would be made and information would be recorded in the final 2 1/2 years of the effort, although the technology would be "tweaked" somewhat during the final half of the project.
Battelle says that at its peak, the five-state project would create about 1,500 jobs in manufacturing, installing, and operating smart-grid equipment, telecommunications networks, software, and controls.
"The project will measure and validate smart-grid costs and benefits for customers, utilities, and regulators, thereby (making) business cases for future smart-grid investments," says Mike Davis, a Battelle vice president. "It also will help spur a vibrant new smart-grid industry and a more cost-effective, reliable electricity supply, both which are foundations for economic growth and international competitiveness."
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