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Green Power

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Ed Jahn photoEd Jahn (Producer): Hydro was once king in Oregon. It still provides over half the state's power, and it's renewable. But Oregon doesn't brag about hydro like it used to.

I'm Ed Jahn, for FocusWest.

Dams don't do much for fish.. On the other hand, oil and gas pollute, and nuclear leaves a legacy of waste. And Oregon? Well, it wants energy more in keeping with the state's environmentally-friendly image.

In Oregon, wind is a free and abundant fuel. It's also popular with the locals.

Dan Saltzman photoDan Saltzman (Portland City Commissioner & Office Of Sustainable Development): We're discovering in the northwest, and some places in the midwest, are basically the Saudi Arabias in terms of wind potential.

Ed Jahn: In the 90's, investors -- lured by generous tax credits and incentives -- built a complex called Stateline that harnessed the legendary winds of the Columbia Gorge.

Stateline uses high-tech turbines, which generate more power than older models.

That's important, because Oregon's past experiments with wind were an embarrasment.

The old turbines didn't produce much power, and wound up as so much scrap metal -- proof to critics then that windpower was a boondoggle.

In contrast, Stateline produces 300 megawatts of power, enough to light 70,000 homes.

Michael Grainey photoMichael Grainey (Director, Oregon Department of Energy): The state's policy is to promote all renewable resources. . . . we finance literally hundreds of millions of renewable energy projects, including small hydro, biomass, solar, geothermal, and wind. And our policy is to encourage all of them.

Ed Jahn: In Oregon's open-for-business renewable energy environment, even oddball ideas come to life, like cow power.

Mark Fryburg photoMark Fryburg (Portland General Electric spokesman): Think of this as a big cow stomach that keeps digesting what the cow didn't finish. And in the process it produces a lot of gas, stomach gas really, it's got methane in it, the methane goes into a pipe into an engine, spins the engine, spins the generator, makes electricity.

Ed Jahn: It's called a methane digester, and by converting cow waste into energy, utility owner Portland General Electric also reduces greenhouse gases, a fundamental mission of state energy policy.

Mark Fryburg: This is an example of a project that's good for the environment that was made possible because taxpayers of Oregon said we want to give credit to companies that do this.

Ed Jahn: Green power got its biggest boost in 2002, when Oregon tacked a three percent tax onto consumer electric bills. That tax is collected in part to help finance business investment in renewable energy.

Dennis Wilde photoDennis Wilde (Project manager, Gerding/Edlen Development): The photovoltaic array behind me produces about four percent of the power that this building consumes when it's fully occupied . . .

Ed Jahn: Dennis Wilde tapped grants and commercial tax credits in order to bring solar to this Portland development.

Dennis Wilde: Without public assistance, you'd see very few projects like this . . . The infrastructure doesn't yet exist to where the price point is competitive with other regionally generated sources of electricity.

Ed Jahn: Free market advocate John Charles takes issue with the explosion of subsidies fueling this renewable energy goldrush.

John Charles photoJohn Charles (Senior Policy Analyst and Environmental Policy Director, Cascade Policy Institute): If it's something worth doing, I think it's worth doing with private money. And once you start getting the government into it it's just old-fashioned pork barreling.

Angus Duncan photoAngus Duncan (President, Bonneville Environmental Foundation): The reason that it is important for both the gov and private citizens to invest up-front, in paying a higher price for renewables, is if they want renewables to become a significant part of the Northwest faster. It'll happen, it's just a question of how fast or how slow it's going to happen.

Ed Jahn: Oregon has cast its lot. When it joined California and Washington in an agreement to jointly promote and purchase green power, it took a jab at federal energy policy.

Michael Grainey: That's an initiative we've undertaken because the federal government has done nothing on c02, it doesn't consider carbon dioxide a pollutant even though there's growing evidence of its adverse impacts of it on the entire planet. . . . there's always going to be a role for fossil fuels . . . but the mix and emphasis should be on developing cleaner sources of energy and more efficient uses of the sources of energy that we have.

Ed Jahn: Energy demand has been reduced, from 3 percent annual increases during the 70's to 1 percent in recent years.

Conservation played a role -- encouraged through consumer tax credits for energy efficient appliances, lights, and add-ons like home solar power.

Michael Grainey: We've avoided having to build two new fossil fuel plants that would likely have come on otherwise, and that's saved the state's ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars and it's saved us a huge amount of environmental impact from those facilities.

Ed Jahn: Behind Oregon's aggresive green power strategy? A collective memory of a not-too-distant past.

Dan Saltzman: Our energy policy kinda evolved going back to the mid 70's, energy shortages, oil embargoes and things like that. . . I think from a security point of view we need to be more reliant on domestic sources of energy, and from an environmental point of view we believe conservation and renewables are the way to go.

Ed Jahn: Renewables still face an uphill battle. They cost more than coal and gas, and despite advances, non-hydro renewables generate less than 3 percent of the total energy supply in the northwest.

John Charles: I just think we need to be careful, not just embrace things and say they're renewable, they're green, and therefore no subsidy is too large and just throw money at them because they're renewable. I just think that's silly. All of these approaches need to meet some kind of market test about feasibility.

Angus Duncan: What's the cheapest power? Is the cheapest power only economically or do we have to count environmental costs in? As a practical matter and as a legal mater we do have to count environmental costs, those are part of the calculation.

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