Oregon could lead in alternative energy


Oregon could surge ahead of other states in encouraging the development of renewable energy alternatives with the passage of bills before state legislators, but there may be a fight over at least one proposal because of worry over its costs.

Lawmakers have considered nearly 30 different energy proposals this session &

many legislators call it the "energy session" &

but decisions on some of the most important bills are still pending.

Oregon is known for capitalizing on its abundant hydropower, but not for other alternative forms of energy, and many lawmakers want to change that.

The centerpiece of the energy legislation &

and the heart of Gov. Ted Kulongoski's aggressive clean energy agenda &

is a bill that would require the state's largest utilities to draw 25 percent of their electricity from renewable sources such as wind, waves and the sun by 2025.

Although the bill threatens to split the Legislature down party lines, nearly all lawmakers and lobbyists agree that the proposal to force utilities away from carbon-intensive fuels would have the most and longest-lasting impact.

"The renewable energy standard is the policy that alone could make Oregon the leader in renewable energy generation," said Jeremiah Baumann, a spokesman for Oregon State Public Interest Research Group. "Part of the reason it's the most controversial is that it's going to make the biggest difference."

The proposal, known as a renewable portfolio standard or RPS, would require investor- and most consumer-owned utilities to draw 5 percent of their power from renewable resources &

other than existing hydroelectric dams &

by 2010; 15 percent by 2015; 20 percent by 2020 and 25 percent by 2025.

But many House Republicans worry about its impact on industry and smaller consumers.

"Right now, to my knowledge, this is going to be the most aggressive RPS in the nation," said Rep. Chuck Burley, R-Bend, who opposes the bill in its current form. "In the open competitive market the reason renewable energy isn't being used more is simply because it costs more."

Burley isn't the only one concerned about cost.

Intel, the state's largest private employer and one of Oregon's largest electricity consumers &

and a vocal defender of the environment &

doesn't support the bill because it fears it could drive up costs.

"When you talk about a $50 million annual energy bill, small amounts can be big dollars," said Bill MacKenzie, a spokesman for the chip maker.

Oregon's two largest utilities, Portland General Electric and PacifiCorp, support it and 23 other states have passed laws requiring utilities to move toward renewable energy sources.

Failure in the House would jeopardize the high-profile efforts of Kulongoski and lawmakers like Rep. Jackie Dingfelder, D-Portland, who have invested significant political capital to push through clean energy, low-carbon legislation.

A few other bills, some of which have passed one or more chambers, are also important components of the so-called energy session:

"" Incentives and tax breaks for farmers who grow canola seeds or corn that can be used as additives for gasoline and diesel for most cars were part of a biofuels package embraced by Republicans from rural Oregon and easily passed in the House.

"" A companion bill that also passed in the House increases the business tax credit for firms investing in renewable energy from 35 to 50 percent of eligible costs and could stimulate additional homegrown energy sources. All three biofuels bills are expected to be approved by the Senate and signed by the governor.

"" The state would establish greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals and a global warming commission that would coordinate state and local efforts to halt the growth of emissions under a bill that has yet to go before either chamber. It would also create a climate change research institute in conjunction with the state's university system.

"" A bill passed in the House last week requires state agencies to cut their energy consumption 20 percent below 2000 levels by June 30, 2015 through efficient new buildings and renovations to older ones. Supporters say the bill shows that Oregon is serious about increasing energy efficiency and its rapidly growing green building sector.

"" Increased energy efficiency standards for appliances such as DVD players, bottled water coolers and portable hot tubs would be required in a measure passed in the Senate this past week. The proposal would sync Oregon with Washington and several Northeast states that are using efficiency standards created by California.

"" Establishing the Clean Diesel Engine Fund to retrofit diesel engines with filters to cut pollution by more than 95 percent is the intention of another bill. The goal is to reduce Oregonians' cancer risk from exposure to diesel exhaust from 23 cases per million people statewide to just one per million. Neither house has voted on it.

Although several of the bills could face tough resistance from industry and lawmakers concerned about economic impact, Jeff Bissonnette, a spokesman for the Citizens' Utility Board of Oregon, said there is increasing pressure on lawmakers to act.

"With continuing rising gas prices, with continuing upper pressure on electricity rates, continuing awareness on global warming and climate change there is a public awareness that we really need to do things differently," said Bissonnette.

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