Thursday, April 3, 2003
By NORTH CHEATHAM
Special to the News
While conflict rages in the Middle East, national lawmakers are proposing a Renewable Electricity Standard to promote greater domestic energy independence. Oregon has everything to gain from adapting such a standard; it would direct the country to generate at least 20 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2025. Oregon legislators should help make sure its provisions are included in the national energy bill.
Renewable electricity standards are a no-brainer for states like ours dependent on an agricultural economy. Yet some politicians characterize them as attacks on industry by fuzzy minded environmentalists. It’s time to put an end to this childish notion. Accelerating renewable energy development through biomass, wind, and solar utilization is principally about local job creation, national security, and a stable supply of electricity that promotes a healthy economic climate. It’s about promoting initiative and industry in our rural regions. Increasing the proportion of renewable energy for Oregon is serious business, and our legislators should treat it as such.
Thirteen states — most lying in the agricultural plains of the Midwest and Southwest — have already passed renewable energy standards. Their leaders have realized that electricity generated from wind and biomass combustion is a promising new cash crop for farmers.
Here in Oregon, the dairy industry could solve waste disposal problems by extracting methane from cow manure and piping the gas to electric generators. The necessary technology has been around for 30 years, but electric utilities haven’t wanted to buy the power — even though it’s just as reliable as electricity from fossil-fuel plants and provides a local benefit.
The availability of wind energy close to the Gorge is almost perfectly correlated with irrigation needs, and electric irrigation pumps present an attractive constant load demand. Wind turbines outside the Scenic Area could contribute to the continued viability of family farming, ranching, and orchards near to the Gorge by adding a diversified income source to offset low margin crop production. The Sevenmile Hill proposal near The Dalles, involving 33 turbines, is consistent with this vision provided Audubon concerns can be adequately addressed.
Biogasifiers and biomass turbines fueled by agricultural wastes could also contribute significantly to the Northwest’s generation capacity. It may soon be feasible to generate electricity by fueling turbines with excess crop residues or entire trees from orchard clearing. Currently, huge amounts of agricultural residues are being burned and wasted annually because operators simply have no other realistic option. Open burning also releases enormous amounts of smoke that could be dramatically reduced by high temperature turbine combustion.
Homegrown, renewable energy is not expensive. In fact, renewable power saves ratepayers money over time because wind turbines and methane plants keep churning out power at a fixed cost when drought and natural gas spikes drive up the cost of conventional generation. Plus, they pump that money into local economies rather than foreign gas fields.
Rural Oregon can be a powerful part of the nation’s drive toward energy independance. Let’s hope legislators weigh the state’s interests above those of the petroleum industry.
North Cheatham lives in Hood River.
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