The Oregon energy debate: a case study.

Oregon is a part of a region in the U.S. that has long been ahead of the national curve on alternative energy. With this has come intense debate about the way forward for supplying the energy needs of its citizens.

The wave debate

The coastal Northwest is one of the few parts of the West where water is abundant, but people are still fighting over it. Amid concerns about climate change and the pollution caused by generating electricity with coal and natural gas, Oregon is looking to draw power from the waves that pound its coast with forbidding efficiency.

The debate over the potential damage (whether to the environment, the fishing industry or the stunning views of the Pacific) has become intense before the first megawatt has been transmitted to shore.

All of the permits approved (to conduct testing for a wave energy farm) have been in Oregon, where transmission lines run close to the coast, making them easier to tap into, and where state government encourages businesses to explore new forms of energy.

But some environmentalists and fishermen worry that the recent rush for renewable energy is more about politics, big business and the next big thing than it is about clean energy. They warn that too little is known about what effect wave farms might have on migrating fish and whales.

Philip D. Moeller, a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and a supporter of wave and tidal energy projects, said the government was “not allowing these to go into sensitive areas.”  Licenses let companies set up a short-term wave farm to test technology and demonstrate success to wary investors. If environmental damage became evident, he said, the equipment could be removed from the ocean fairly quickly.

“Let’s get this stuff in the water and find out what it has to offer,” Mr. Moeller said. “Consumers want green power, and this is an option.”

Source: New York Times

* The Oregon Energy trust is working to ‘change how Oregonians produce and use energy by investing in efficient technologies and renewable resources that save dollars and protect the environment.’

What PGE (Oregon’s main energy utility) have to say

Oregonians are hearing a lot about how Portland General Electric generates and uses energy and how much it costs. Peggy Fowler is CEO of Portland General Electric (PGE). She focuses particularly on the future for one of Oregons main coal fired power stations.

To quote;

Boardman is one of 615 coal-fired plants across the United States that, together, generate half the nation’s electric power. Coal is more economical and reliable than most other options available. It will be expensive (proposed emission controls will cost hundreds of millions of dollars) but PGE believes it’s an important investment to keep Boardman working while reducing its environmental footprint.

We’re investing $1 billion to build the Biglow Canyon Wind Farm in Sherman County. We’re entering partnerships to build new solar projects, including the nation’s first solar highway. We’re helping customers use electricity wisely, and installing smart meters to help them manage power usage even more effectively.

PGE, Xcel and other utilities are adding renewables to augment coal and natural gas resources, not to replace them. We supported the state’s new renewable-energy standard and look forward to working with Oregonians to determine our energy future. The decisions leading to that future must be based on facts, and our customers deserve to know that the costs, reliability and environmental benefits of the actions taken have been carefully considered.


* Current Oregon Energy Statistics,  showing energy consumption trends in the major sectors of the Oregon economy

The wider North-west picture

Even as some states go on a building binge of coal-fired power plants, Washington is considering hefty restrictions that would do the opposite, essentially allowing just one new coal plant to be built. It’s part of an emerging schism over coal as a future source of energy, pitting those who see it as reliable and cheap against those who consider it the dirtiest way to make electricity.

On one side is Texas, where a Dallas energy company wants to build 11 new coal power plants. On the opposite end is California, which wants to bar the use of most coal power to fight global warming.

Mercury is now a big issue regards coal fired power stations and many states are debating measures to place restrictions on mercury emissions.

Washington would also block coal plants in Washington from participating in a federal program that lets some plants keep puffing out more mercury through a “cap-and-trade” program. That gives companies an “allowance” of mercury to emit every year. If a company doesn’t use all its allowance, it can sell the remainder to another power plant so it can emit more mercury.

That has the large state Department of Ecology, which is charged with protecting the environment, at odds with the chairman of a state board called the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, which oversees permits for new power plants.

For Ecology, the issue is relatively simple: “We were really driven to act on this because of our concern about mercury,” said Sarah Rees, an Ecology manager working on the new mercury limits. The cap-and-trade system would allow some plants to pay to keep pumping out more mercury, and people living nearby could suffer, Rees said. It also delays cuts in the pollution.

For Jim Luce, chair of the Energy Facility council, as well as several power companies, that would limit options in the search for new electricity.


The debate is as wide as it is deep and will continue for some time yet, not least because technologies have to play catch up with people’s desires to have more energy delivered from cleaner sources.

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council, a federal agency that plans for the region’s electricity needs, predicts that in the next two decades only one more small coal plant of between 400 and 425 megawatts is warranted in all of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.

Puget Sound Energy, however, has said it could need to make as much as 675 megawatts of coal power in that time just for Western Washington.

Then there are environmentalists who even question the need for any new coal plants at all, particularly with the initiative passed by state voters that dictates that major utilities get more power from renewable sources.

“We really don’t see any need for coal development in the Northwest, period,” said Marc Krasnowsky, spokesman for the NW Energy Coalition, an environmental group.

Source: The Seattle Times

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6 Responses to The Oregon energy debate: a case study.

  1. the Grit says:

    What an excellent post! Bravo!

    You do a fabulous job of pointing out that, for some extremists, no source of energy beyond muscle power will ever be good enough. Unfortunately, these cowards don’t list their names and addresses so I can’t devote my life to traveling from town to town beating a bit of common sense into their heads.

    the Grit

  2. matt says:

    That sounds a bit extremist Grit 🙂

  3. the Grit says:

    Hi Matt,

    Well, now that you mention it… 🙂

    the Grit

  4. matt says:

    I do like to stick to the debate at hand, which is very interesting after all. It’s good to see debate is alive and well state side. Burning more coal is the answer for some but it seems more and more people are questioning this stance.

    What is fun is seeing what the engineers can come up with for the alternatives. There’s some innovative plans and tests going on right now, especially in relation to harnessing the power of tides, waves and the oceans. I notice that one of the companies carrying out tests off the US coast is a company from Scotland.

  5. the Grit says:

    Hi Matt,

    The tide stuff is cool but, living several hundred miles from the nearest ocean, I find it difficult to get too excited about it 🙂 On the other hand, considering the size of the wakes barges make going up and down the Mississippi, some variant on wave motion electric generation might be useful here. On the gripping hand, if I understand things correctly, tidal generation depends on low speed turbines or something along those lines, so I don’t see why they wouldn’t work in a river.

    Of course, any project involving the ocean, rivers, or lakes is going to have a tough time over here because of the “not in my back yard” effect. Most of our politicians talk a good game where developing alternative sources of energy are concerned, as long as the production is done somewhere else. With this in mind, I’m thinking that the best bet, at least in the United States, is small scale electric generation that individuals can buy for themselves.

    Speaking of this, a friend of mine and I actually applied for a Government research grant to develop a cheap wind powered generator. The idea was to use off the shelf parts to build a small wind mill that would, some of the time, produce usable power in low wind areas like ours, but be so inexpensive that the investment, despite the inefficiency, would still be tempting to most anyone who owns a piece of land. We were denied because our request of $10,000 (for parts and such) would cost several times that to process and monitor, so it wasn’t cost efficient. It was, however, mentioned that, once we had the appropriate research facilities at our disposal and the appropriate number of people with letters after their names on staff, that, perhaps, a few million dollars could be directed our way. Unfortunately, at the time, our credit cards were maxed out, so we had to turn down the offer.

    The reason that I mention this, besides just liking to drone on about stuff, is that it illustrates the real problem with changing to any form(s) of alternative energy, which is the cost to individuals of adding the infrastructure. Really, while most people will swear, if asked, that they would switch to renewable energy sources at the drop of a hat, until the price is competitive. Over here, for instance, people will drive several miles out of their way to buy gasoline that is 10 cents per gallon cheaper than the stuff down the block. Of course, these same people will stop on the way home to pick up a cup of coffee for $5 that they could make themselves for a tiny fraction of that price.

    This, after some serious contemplation, leads me to think that the real solution to our energy problems could be solved by making people pay for their electricity in public, and having one line for the cheap old fashioned energy, and another one for the cutting edge fashionable (and much more expensive) energy. Of course, people in the snooty line will have to get free coffee.

    the Grit

  6. the Grit says:

    Hi Matt,

    I forgot: Go Scotland!

    the Grit

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