PacifiCorp is at the heart of Berkshire Hathaway Energy’s growing utility empire. We recently sat down with Stefan Bird, president and chief executive of their Pacific Power unit, in his Portland office for a wide-ranging discussion. Pacific This is the first of a two-part series.
ENERGY TIMES: Berkshire Hathaway Energy, your corporate parent, is pushing renewables deployments. How is that playing out here with PacifiCorp?
BIRD: Renewables are definitely a big part of our story. PacifiCorp is the second largest owner of utility- owned wind assets in the country, number two to our sister utility, MidAmerican Energy, which has made some very aggressive recent announcements on that front. They’re moving to 85 percent of their retail load served by renewable energy.
ENERGY TIMES: What share is yours at?
BIRD: PacifiCorp serves three western states – Washington, Oregon, California. There is ongoing dialogue in all three states on de-carbonization and moving to an increasingly clean energy future – which we support. We are invested very aggressively. We’ve got about 2000 megawatts of renewables out of our total portfolio of 11,000 megawatts. We have a very large hydroelectric fleet and that contributes to our emission-free supply. There are a number of changes that have been pretty exciting in the last year or so as we collaborate more effectively with our neighbors. The Western grid is all physically interconnected, but we frankly don’t use it as efficiently and effectively as we could.
ENERGY TIMES: How will the major transformation in California energy markets affect PacifiCorp?
BIRD: PacifiCorp’s Pacific Power division serves 750,000 customers in three Western states, including the northern tip of California. We have three additional eastern states under Rocky Mountain Power - Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho. Overall, we have about 1.8 million customers with a fleet of assets and a transmission grid that is covering even more states than that. PacifiCorp is a pretty unique player in the western grid with the unique access that we have to every market. We had a unique advantage to partner with the California ISO a couple years ago to implement the Energy Imbalance Market, which now combines all six of our states. All of our generation assets are now optimized every 5 minutes and every 15 minutes along with the CalISO. We began the market in November 2014 and through the first quarter of this year has saved customers across the system $65 million, reduced emissions, allowed more integration of renewables and avoided curtailment of renewables. There are another four or five utilities that have committed to join. Every new entity that joins expands the diversity, it further reduces costs and adds benefits. We are now looking at other potential expansion of the market. We don’t have the optimization that could occur day ahead, and so that has been part of the conversation we’ve been having with the CalISO and other stakeholders.