At the session, which focused on Oregon’s renewable energy requirement, moderator and Oregonian reporter Scott Learn questioned the panel on renewable energy sources, conservation and demand, and the impact of new, clean energy resources on customer rates.
Renewable Northwest Project executive director Rachel Shimshak said that between 4% and 6% percent of energy serving Oregon customers currently comes from new, renewable sources. She believes the state will reach its goal of 25 percent renewable energy by 2025, and then some.
“My view is we need aggressive energy efficiency and solar to reduce consumption and peak power demands,” she said. “We are blessed with generous amounts of renewable resources in the Pacific Northwest, including wind power, solar, and water. We’ve been able to turn these resources into power for our livelihood, and we’ve done it cost effectively. Oregon has progressive utilities that know how to deploy these resources for our benefit. We can blow past our 25 percent goal, and when we do we’ll use less gas and coal and will have fewer carbon emissions.”
She added that local utilities are on pace to meet 2011 and 2015 benchmarks for meeting the 2025 levels. Bonneville Environmental Foundation President and Founder Angus Duncan said the 25% by 2025 standard must be met.
“The real question is, can we afford not to meet our goals? The answer is no,” he said. “The cost of failing to ramp down on carbon emissions has been estimated to be five to 15 times the cost of actually reducing carbon output.”
All three panelists ranked energy efficiency as the top priority in helping the state of Oregon reach its clean energy goals. Jenks thinks that despite investment in new energy technology, conservation will be the key to keeping prices affordable for customers.
“Our rates will go up in the future, but if we’re more efficient, our bills don’t have to go up,” he said. “We as a society need to use less energy and do everything we can to be energy efficient. That means changing how we consume power and using new tools to manage peak load times.”
Following efficiency measures, Jenks said wind power is the main step to raising the amount of renewable power on the grid.
“Wind energy is cost effective and a mature technology that we need to actually overinvest in,” he said. “In the long run, wind power will reduce prices and allow us to focus on what makes sense.”
Tax breaks for wind power companies have been a prevalent topic of discussion in Oregon, a state facing considerable budget deficits. When asked about these benefits, Shimshak said wind power is no different than other energy industries that receive incentives.
“There’s not a power resource out there that’s not subsidized by the government,” she said. “Fossil fuel has subsidies in perpetuity. Right now there is significant investment from the government in fossil fuel and less in renewable resources, but these incentives help advance renewable power by overcoming market barriers and leveling the playing field.”
Shimshak also added that green energy is currently no more costly than other resources, according to utility filings, and that there’s less risk in wind power due to the fact that it emits no carbon or other air emissions and uses no fuel, eliminating fuel price volatility risks. “Wind is a stable cost over the long-term,” she said.
Oregon’s reputation as a renewable energy hub will also pay dividends when it comes to green jobs.
“Portland is becoming to wind power what Houston is to petroleum,” Shimshak said. “Renewable power businesses are relocating to the area and bringing thousands of jobs between them, not to mention the many rural jobs for projects in counties across the state.”
While renewable energy grows, so does the argument that alternative sources, like wind, require larger base loads as backup, thus negating the benefits of natural resources. Duncan dispelled the notion and cites the region’s abundant use of hydropower as an example.
“Northwest utilities have learned to manage variability in hydroelectric power for 70 years,” he said.
“Oregon has a base of electricity that is low cost and has a low environmental impact. Wind and solar will be like that as well. Sure, there will be seasonal and daily fluctuations, but there are ways to manage it. We have to build a mosaic of various resources to meet load demand. While it sounds difficult, we can do it.”
Oregonians are protective of their state’s natural beauty, and many are concerned about the growth of technologies that alter the pristine landscapes. Shimshak acknowledged the challenge, and said it will be a delicate balance moving forward.
“It will be controversial when it comes to new locations for wind facilities,” she said. “But we will require best practices no matter who is building the facility. We will need to work with advocates, agencies, and industry to tailor our siting guidelines to new data. We want to be part of the solution, not the problem, so we can share the wealth across the region.”
“Portland is becoming to wind power what Houston is to petroleum,” said Rachel Shimshak, executive director, Renewable Northwest Project. “Renewable power businesses are relocating to the area and bringing thousands of jobs between them, not to mention the many rural jobs in counties across the state.”
For more information about the renewable energy outlook in Oregon, visit these resources:
Bonneville Environmental Foundation
Citizens Utility Board of Oregon
Renewable Northwest Project
American Wind Energy Association
By John Audley of the Renewable Northwest Project, www.awea.org/blog/