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Friday, March 17, 2006

New From My Backyard: Oregon Governor Wants State Govt. to Run on 100% Renewable Energy

Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski wants 100% of the electricity used by state agencies to come from new sources of renewable energy by 2010, the Oregonian reports.

According to the Oregonian, Kulongoski had previously set the mark at 100 percent by 2025, but decided to greatly accelerate the schedule as a way to create jobs and set an example in responsible energy consumption. Speaking before the Oregon Sustainability Board on March 10th, Kulongoski said, "I want to shorten our timetable by 15 years. I want to do it by 2010, and I think we can do this if we set the bar and say we are going to move toward this target."

“The state must lead by example in its consumption of energy,” Kulongoski said.

So far, the governor has provided little in the way of specifics on public investment costs, potential savings or ways to meet the target but his plan would be a first in the nation for a state government. Kulongoski promised that the state departments of Administrative Services and Energy would deliver options to him by July, the Oregonian reports.

According to the article, the state government currently spends about $26 million a year on electricity, which makes up roughly one-third of the total energy consumed by various state agencies. Currently, only about 1 percent of state agencies' electricity comes from renewable sources, said Anna Richter Taylor, a Kulongoski spokeswoman.

The article continues:

Renewable energy and consumer advocates called the governor's proposal feasible. They praised his aggressiveness in developing new industry through wind and solar generators, geothermal or hot rock sources, and plant matter biomass.

That's especially timely as Oregonians worry about global warming and soaring fuel costs, they said. At the same time, there's dwindling room to develop additional sites to generate hydroelectric power.

Wind and solar sources are attractive "because there's no fuel -- nature is the fuel -- you have very stable prices over the long term," said Rachel Shimshak, director of the Renewable Northwest Project, a nonprofit advocacy group.

Bob Jenks, executive director of the consumer-friendly Citizens' Utility Board, said government is poised to encourage demand.

"Twenty years ago, government did a lot to push the purchase of recycled paper and helped build the market for that," he said. "And they can do the same here: use their purchasing power to develop renewable energy."

About 55 percent of regional electricity comes from hydropower dams -- which environmentalists say have threatened to extinguish the Northwest salmon population -- with the rest coming from coal and natural gas, said Angus Duncan, president and CEO of the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, a nonprofit agency that buys and sells renewable energy.

Wind power generates about 1 percent, meaning there's plenty of room to grow, he said.

Kulongoski said possible options include the state buying and developing wind farms, or contracting with a private company to develop one. State agencies also could install more solar panels or build on-site biomass generators.

All of that sounds good to Rep. Jeff Kropf, a Republican from rural Sublimity, who co-sponsored a bill last year to promote renewable fuels made from corn, seeds or other agricultural products.

"As long as it can be developed within the state of Oregon and doesn't cost us more money in the long run," he said, "I'm fine."

This sounds like an excellent plan to me.

As a very large bulk purchaser of electricity, government agencies can do a lot to encourage the adoption of renewable energy. The same rational applies to colleges and universities, more and more of which have made significant green energy purchases in past years.

Large long-term bulk purchasing commitments are the kind of deals renewable energy investors are looking for before they invest in a new development project.

This state green power purchase would go a long way to spur the development of the renewable energy industry in Oregon and would certainly require the construction of more renewable energy facilities in the state.

I'm skeptical, however, that Kulongoski can actually implement this plan. He has made similar vocal commitments in the past to combat climate change and air pollution through renewable fuels and energy and has been trying to implement California's stricter vehicle emissions standards (which include CO2 standards). However, his term in office is nearing its end (and there's no garauntee he will win his bid for reelection) and so far, none of these measures have actually been implemented.

I applaud Kulongoski for his bold plans and vocal support of renewable energy and stricter vehicle emissions standards. But Ted, let's see some of these plans implemented!


Heiko said...

Their definition of renewable seems to exclude hydro?

$26 million worth of electricity doesn't seem that much. Assume 6 cents per kWh (you'll know the value much better) and that would be just over 400 million kWh, or about a ten thousandth of US consumption or about 5% of the yearly output of a 1GW nuclear plant, or about the output of 55 3 MW wind turbines operating at a capacity factor of 30%.

Shouldn't they be able to do that even faster than 2010, like next year?

Jesse Jenkins said...

Heiko, I believe that their definition of renewables does indeed exclude large hydro projects but does include micro-hydro projects.

$26 million isn't that much, but just over 400 million kWh would put the Oregon State Govt. at number three on the EPA's top 25 green power purchase partners list. Not too shabby really.

But as to your point about that size green power purchase being made earlier than 2010, it seems that they want to have the power come from new sources of renewable energy, rather than existing sites. They would like their purchase to contribute to the expansion of renewables in Oregon. So, yes, that only equals 55 3 MW wind turbines, but they'd have to site and build them which would probably take a few years.

All in all though, the target of 2010 seems reasonable. Some have characterized this as 'ambitious', but as you point out, it really isn't all that ambitious.

Interestingly (and not coincidentally), moving the target up to 2010 makes it coincide nicely with the end of Kulongoski's next term in office, assuming he wins reelection. Sound like a reelection scheme to you?

However, as the Republican quoted at the end of the article indicates, renewables in Oregon aren't exactly a partisan issue, and it could be that whoever replaces Kulongoski, should he lose in November, will continue with this plan. Let's hope so...

Heiko said...

Ok that makes sense. Building 55 3 MW turbines should only take a year, but with permitting and all, and tight supply at the moment, maybe 2010 is what's required, if he wants new turbines in the state to provide the power.

With the tax credit and high fossil fuel prices, it should be possible to do it without this costing the state any money (assuming the wind resource is there, I don't know enough about Oregon to tell).