Oregon Town Hosts 1st Wind-Solar-Battery ‘Hybrid’ Plant

A renewable energy plant being commissioned in Oregon on Wednesday that combines solar power, wind power and massive batteries to store the energy generated there is the first utility-scale plant of its kind in North America.

The project, which will generate enough electricity to power a small city at maximum output, addresses a key challenge facing the utility industry as the U.S. transitions away from fossil fuels and increasingly turns to solar and wind farms for power. Wind and solar are clean sources of power, but utilities have been forced to fill in gaps when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining with fossil fuels like coal or natural gas.

At the Oregon plant, massive lithium batteries will store up to 120 megawatt-hours of power generated by the 300-megawatt wind farms and 50-megawatt solar farm so it can be released to the electric grid on demand. At maximum output, the facility will produce more than half of the power that was generated by Oregon’s last coal plant, which was demolished earlier this month.

On-site battery storage isn’t new, and interest in solar-plus-battery projects in particular has soared in the U.S. in recent years due to robust tax credits and incentives and the falling price of batteries. The Wheatridge Renewable Energy Facility in Oregon, however, is the first in the U.S. to combine integrated wind, solar and battery storage at such a large scale in one location, giving it even more flexibility to generate continuous output without relying on fossil fuels to fill in the gaps.

The project is “getting closer and closer to having something with a very stable output profile that we traditionally think of being what’s capable with a fuel-based generation power plant,” said Jason Burwen, vice president of energy storage at the American Clean Power Association, an advocacy group for the clean power industry.

“If the solar is chugging along and cloud cover comes over, the battery can kick in and make sure that the output is uninterrupted. As the sun goes down and the wind comes online, the battery can make sure that that’s very smooth so that it doesn’t, to the grid operator, look like anything unusual.”

The plant located in a remote expanse three hours east of Portland is a partnership between NextEra Energy Resources and Portland General Electric, a public utility required to reduce carbon emissions by 100% by 2040 under an Oregon climate law passed last year, one of the most ambitious in the nation.

PGE’s customers are also demanding green power — nearly a quarter-million customers receive only renewable energy — and the Wheatridge project is “key to that decarbonization strategy,” said Kristen Sheeran, PGE’s director of sustainability strategy and resource planning.

Under the partnership, PGE owns one-third of the wind output and purchases all the facility’s power for its renewable energy portfolio. NextEra, which developed the site and operates it, owns two-thirds of the wind output and all of the solar output and storage.

“The mere fact that many other customers are looking at these types of facilities gives you a hint at what we think could be possible,” said David Lawlor, NextEra’s director of business development for the Pacific Northwest. “Definitely customers want firmer generation, starting with the battery storage in the back.”

Large-scale energy storage is critical as the U.S. shifts to more variable power sources like wind and solar, and Americans can expect to see similar projects across the country as that trend accelerates. National Renewable Energy Laboratory models show U.S. storage capacity may rise fivefold by 2050, yet experts say even this won’t be enough to prevent extremely disruptive climate change.

Batteries aren’t the only solution that the clean energy industry is trying out. Pumped storage generates power by sending huge volumes of water downhill through turbines and others are experimenting with forcing water underground and holding it there before releasing it to power turbines.

But interest in batteries for clean energy storage has grown dramatically in recent years at the same time that the cost of batteries is falling and the technology itself is improving, boosting interest in hybrid plants, experts say.

Generating capacity from hybrid plants increased 133% between 2020 and 2021 and by the end of last year, there were nearly 8,000 megawatts of wind or solar generation connected to storage, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which is managed by the University of California.

The vast majority of such projects are solar power with battery storage, largely because of tax credits, but projects in the pipeline include offshore wind-plus-battery, hydroelectric-plus-battery and at least nine facilities like the one in Oregon that will combine solar, wind and storage. Projects in the pipeline between 2023 and 2025 include ones in Washington, California, Arizona, Idaho, Iowa, Illinois and Oregon, according to Berkeley Lab.

Many researchers and pilots are working on alternatives to lithium ion batteries, however, largely because their intrinsic chemistry limits them to around four hours of storage and a longer duration would be more useful.

“There is no silver bullet. There’s no model or prototype that’s going to meet that entire need … but wind and solar will certainly be in the mix,” said PGE’s Sheeran.

“This model can become a tool for decarbonization across the West as the whole country is driving toward very ambitious climate reduction goals.”

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Experimental Alzheimer’s Drug Said to Succeed in Slowing Cognitive Decline

An experimental Alzheimer’s drug developed by Eisai and Biogen significantly slowed cognitive and functional decline in a large trial of patients in the early stages of the disease, the companies said Tuesday. 

The injected drug, lecanemab, slowed progress of the brain-wasting disease by 27% compared with a placebo, meeting the study’s main goal and offering an apparent win for the companies and potentially for patients and their families desperate for an effective treatment. 

Eisai said the results from the 1,800-patient trial prove the longstanding theory that removal of sticky deposits of a protein called amyloid beta from the brains of people with early Alzheimer’s can delay advance of the debilitating disease. 

“It’s not a huge effect, but it’s a positive effect,” said Ronald Petersen, director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center in Rochester, Minnesota, adding that the results were extremely important for Alzheimer’s research. 

“This means that treating amyloid is a step in the right direction,” he said. 

Results considered a “win”

Wall Street analysts, such as Salim Syed at Mizuho Securities, have said the results would be considered a “win” if lecanemab slowed the rate of decline by about 25%, and that shares of both companies could jump on the news. 

Shares of Biogen and Eisai were halted, but shares of Eli Lilly, which is also developing an Alzheimer’s drug, were up 6.7% in after-hours trading. 

Lecanemab, like the companies’ previous drug Aduhelm, is an antibody designed to remove those amyloid deposits. Unlike Aduhelm, lecanemab targets forms of amyloid that have not yet clumped together. 

The so-called amyloid hypothesis has been challenged by some scientists, particularly after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s controversial approval of Aduhelm in 2021 based on its plaque-clearing ability rather than proof that it helped slow cognitive decline. The decision came after the FDA’s own panel of outside experts had advised against approval. 

Aduhelm was the first new Alzheimer’s drug approved in 20 years after a long list of high-profile failures for the industry. 

Eisai, leader of the 50-50 partnership’s lecanemab program, is seeking FDA approval under the same accelerated pathway as Aduhelm, with a decision expected in early January. But on Tuesday, the Japanese drugmaker said it would use the new efficacy results to submit lecanemab for traditional FDA review. 

The company said it will also seek authorization in Japan and Europe during its current fiscal year, ending March 31. 

The Phase III trial evaluated the drug’s ability to reduce cognitive and functional decline based on the Clinical Dementia Rating-Sum of Boxes (CDR-SB), a numerical scale used to quantify the severity of dementia in patients in areas such as memory, orientation, judgment and problem-solving and personal care. 

Brain swelling 

The rate of ARIA-E, a brain swelling side effect associated with anti-amyloid treatments, was 12.5% in the lecanemab group, versus 1.7% in the placebo group. 

While the side effect showed up on imaging, many of these cases were not symptomatic, the companies said. Symptomatic brain swelling was seen in 2.8% of those in the lecanemab group and none of the placebo group, they said. 

The trial also tracked the rate of micro hemorrhages in the brain, which occurred at a rate of 17% in the lecanemab group, and 8.7% in the placebo group. 

The total incidence of both conditions was 21.3% in the lecanemab group and 9.3% in the placebo group, rates that fell within an expected range, the companies said. 

Petersen said the side effect was present, but much less than with Aduhelm, and “certainly tolerable.” 

Aduhelm’s approval was a rare bright spot for Alzheimer’s patients, but critics have called for more evidence that amyloid-targeting drugs are worth the cost. 

The controversy and reluctance by some payers to cover Aduhelm led Biogen to slash the drug’s price to $28,000 per year from an initial $56,000. 

But Medicare, the U.S. government health plan for people 65 and older, this year said it would only pay for Aduhelm if patients were enrolled in a valid clinical trial, which sharply curtailed the medication’s use. Since Alzheimer’s is a disease of aging, an estimated 85% of patients eligible for the drug are covered by the government plan. 

The number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s is expected to rise to about 13 million by 2050 from more than 6 million currently, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Globally, that figure could rise to 139 million by 2050 without an effective treatment, according to Alzheimer’s Disease International. 

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