Oregon’s Environmentalists Lobby For A Greener Future, But Is It The Best Plan?

State Economy

The population of the state of Oregon is approximately 4.29 million people[1]. Oregon is the 27th most populated state in the United States.

In 2020, Oregon’s economy was ranked 24th in the United States in gross domestic product (GDP)[2]. The state’s economy is dependent on the high-technology, agriculture, forestry, hydropower, fishing, and tourism industries[3].

Environment Policies

In 2007, Oregon enacted a mandatory renewable portfolio standard (RPS), which requires public utilities to sell 25% of their electricity from renewable energy by 2025 and 50% by 2040[4].

In January 2021, Oregon power plants[5] used renewable energy (72.0%), and natural gas (28.0%) to generate electricity.

Hydropower is Oregon’s dominant source of renewable energy. The Bonneville Power Authority (BPA), a federal government agency founded in 1937 is the operator of the majority of the state’s hydroelectric power plants.

Oregon’s use of inexpensive renewable energy contributes to the state’s below average cost of electricity. In January 2021, the average cost of residential electricity in Oregon was 11.01 ¢ per kWh, compared to the national average of 12.69 ¢ per kWh.

Recent renewable energy developments in Oregon include:

  • 300 MW Wind + 50 MW Solar + 30 MW Energy Storage – In December 2020, American utility, NextEra Energy commenced work on the Wheatridge Renewable Energy Facility, which is located approximately 200 miles east of the city of Portland. The project is forecast to be commissioned by year-end 2021.
  • 200 MW Wind Project – Spanish utility, Avangrid Renewables is continuing work on the Golden Hills wind project, which is located approximately 120 miles east of Portland. The project is forecast to be commissioned by year-end 2022.
  • 33 MW Solar Projects – In April 2021, California solar company, Adapture Renewables commissioned ten photovoltaic solar projects in Portland. Adapture will own and operate all the solar projects and sell the electricity under a long-term power purchase agreement to Portland General Electric (PGE).
  • 20 kW Micro-Hydroelectric Project – In October 2020, Oregon renewable energy company, InPipe Energy commissioned a micro-hydro system that generates electricity by harvesting excess pressure from the water pipeline system of the city of Hillsboro’s.

 Conclusion

Oregon has a long history of passion and dedication for conservation and the environment. Oregon was the first state[6] to enact a deposit for container recycling, provide federal funding for bicycles, in-state laws to reduce ozone depleting chemicals, and phase-out mercury in thermostats.

Oregon’s environmental groups are now lobbying for the state’s RPS to be modified to require public utilities to sell 100% of their electricity from renewable energy by 2050. Environmentalists emphasize the following facts to state legislators:

  • In the 1960s and 1970s, renewable energy generated 100% of the state’s electricity.
  • Over the past fifty years, Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions have steadily increased.
  • Oregon has vast undeveloped renewable resources, which could replace all natural gas power plants.
  • Global warming and climate change are causing the increase in the frequency in wildfires in Oregon.

Oregon does have an abundance of renewable energy resources, including hydroelectric, onshore wind, offshore wind, solar, and  geothermal. Studies show that Oregon could generate over 2,200% of the state’s power requirements[7] just from renewable energy.

Environmentalist groups also argue that developing Oregon’s renewable energy will create new jobs. Studies show that developing the state’s renewable energy resources would generate over 1,000,000 construction jobs and over 33,000 permanent jobs operating the new wind, solar, and geothermal power plants.

Economics for renewable energy are also compelling. The cheapest form of power generation[8] without any subsidies or tax incentives is onshore wind, followed by solar, hydropower, and then natural gas.

Although Oregon has vast renewable resources, state utilities have been slow to move from fossil fuel to renewable energy. Ironically, states with no mandatory RPS such as Idaho, South Dakota, or Oklahoma have developed significantly more wind and solar energy capacity over the past fifteen years than Oregon.  Why? The answers include:

  1. Antiquated Grid SystemThe Bonneville Power Authority (BPA) is a federal government agency founded in 1937. The agency was formed to develop dams, hydroelectric projects, and the power grid in the Pacific Northwest. Today, BPA operates 75% of the power grid in Oregon. However, the grid has not had any significant upgrades in over 40 years.
  2. Gaps In The Grid System – Oregon’s power grid was developed around the hydroelectric power plants. The power grid in the regions with undeveloped onshore wind, offshore wind, solar and geothermal resources is sparse to nonexistent.
  3. State Versus Federal Agencies – The Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) only has authority over state utilities, but no authority over federal agencies, like the BPA. The BPA operates hydropower, nuclear, coal, and natural gas power plants over a 300,000 square mile area in seven states. The BPA has no obligation to comply with any state mandated RPS.
  4. Protracted Cycle TimeThe cycle time to gain the permits to build a new power plant and the transmission lines to tie into the power grid in Oregon range from 6 to 20 years! Permitting for onshore wind or solar projects in Oklahoma takes 1 to 2 years and for offshore wind projects in New Jersey it takes 2 to 3 years.
  5. Solar RestrictionsOregon counties with major agriculture operations have restricted the development of utility scale solar projects. The perception is solar panels take up productive farm land. Numerous scientific studies by renowned U.S. and European organizations document that agrivoltaics, the co-development of land for both solar and agriculture increases farm land productivity.
  6. Environmental Division – Some environmentalists have opposed the construction of new renewable energy projects because they oppose any new developments even if the power plant will result in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Collectively, the barriers to the development of Oregon’s renewable energy resources are formidable. Potential solutions the state of Oregon can take to remove these barriers include:

  1. Renewable Energy Resource Assessment – Complete a quantitate resource assessment of the state’s hydropower, onshore wind, offshore wind, solar, and geothermal potential, including fairway maps of each significant renewable resource (onshore wind, offshore wind, solar, hydropower, and geothermal).
  2. Power Grid Assessment Complete a thorough assessment of the state’s transmission lines and power grid security. Identify the major grid risks and remedial actions.
  3. Power Grid Development Plan – Develop future transmission line fairways to facilitate the development of the state’s undeveloped renewable energy resources.
  4. Streamline Power Plant Permitting Processes – Implement legislation to streamline the permitting process and cycle time for the development of new renewable energy projects and transmission lines.
  5. Renewable Energy Tenders–Initiate annual state renewable energy tenders to expedite the development of new renewable energy projects. Tenders have been successfully used in Maine, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts to accelerate the development of new renewable energy projects at competitive prices.
  6. State Tax Credits – Legislate state tax credits for major capital projects, such as offshore wind projects, which have power capacity of over 1,000 MW.

Environmental groups can also collaborate to more effectively lobby the federal government to invest in the North American Western Power Grid to improve grid security and to mandate all state utilities and federal agencies move from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Oregon’s environmental groups have excellent intentions, however; changing the state’s RPS to be 100% electricity by 2050 isn’t impactful. Cities, states, and countries must take meaning action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions now, not thirty years in the future.

 

Jack Kerfoot

Website – “Our Energy Conundrum”

www.jackkerfoot.com

 

[1] Oregon Population 2021, World Population Review

[2] U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis

[3] Biggest Industries in Oregon – World Atlas

[4] National Conference of State Legislators – State Renewable Portfolio Standards and Goals, January 4, 2021

[5] U.S. Energy Information Agency – Oregon State Profile and Energy Estimates, www.eia.gov

[6] Oregon Environmental Council, “Oregon’s Environmental Legacyby Farrah Fatemi, Dec. 2017

[7] Engineers for a Sustainable Future, “Energy In Oregon, Past, Potential, Barriers and Path Forward” by Jack Kerfoot, Feb. 2021

[8] Lazard, “Levelized Cost of Energy and Levelized Cost of Storage – 2020”, Oct. 2020

 

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