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"Finding an energy game plan"

"Finding an energy game plan"

It will call for the aggressive development of small sources of electricity -- biomass, wave, geothermal among those joining wind and solar -- to help Oregon utilities meet portfolio obligations by 2025.

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It's not as if there's a minute for Oregon to catch its breath following the call to overhaul public education and health care. No, instead it's time to immediately focus on an equally ambitious plan by Gov. John Kitzhaber to reconfigure the way this state goes about producing, regulating and using energy.

While it sounds academic, and enough fever charts have been drawn to paper the Capitol's walls, the effort couldn't reach more deeply into everyday life. That's because Oregon needs to find a way to keep the lights on without polluting and be able to pay for it down the road -- no small task. And it needs a coordinated and comprehensive energy game plan to get there.

It's true the state has launched multiple efficiency programs in recent years and shown an open-arms recruitment of wind farms and solar companies through generous tax incentives. But conservation lags, regulatory confusion has been a strain for energy developers and policy-setters alike, and the fortunes of wind and solar companies have flattened out. Meanwhile C02-emitting coal- and gas-fired plants account for half the electricity produced in a state that otherwise celebrates clean hydroelectric power.

Oregon has been lucky. But the tab is arriving: On-and-off energy sources such as wind test the electricity transmission system. Ratepayers shoulder increasing costs of system upgrades as well as retrofits to power plants spewing too many greenhouse cases. Renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and geothermal, meanwhile, still only deliver a sliver of the power needed to cut Oregon's dependence on fossil fuels and emission of greenhouse gases. Throughout, nobody can defensibly say costs to Oregon ratepayers won't continue to rise.

The governor's plan -- drawn from months of work by groups invited to think boldly -- will be released as a draft in the next few weeks. It must become the centerpiece of discussion by policymakers, businesses and citizens statewide. It contains some big ideas, as previewed recently by The Oregonian's Ted Sickinger, among them the creation of a carbon tax -- this after Oregon's failed try at creating a cap-and-trade system.

But it also floats the possible creation of a mileage tax that could apply to all users of the transportation system while replacing the gasoline tax, a tired workhorse whose revenues flag. It will call for the aggressive development of small sources of electricity -- biomass, wave, geothermal among those joining wind and solar -- to help Oregon utilities meet portfolio obligations by 2025. And streamlining the state's tangled permit process could include the appointment of an energy czar at the Department of Energy to coordinate efforts at all agencies involved in power plant siting and regulation.

Few of its many ideas, however, show more immediate cost-containment and promise than the call for stepped up conservation.

Sound familiar?

Two years ago the Northwest Power and Conservation Council issued an impressive energy game plan for the four-state region comprising Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana. It calculated conservation measures could meet a whopping 85 percent of the region's anticipated new electricity demand over the next 20 years -- a figure now considered low by some. Significantly, conservation went from being an act of fussy frugality to a vast untapped energy supply that, the council wrote, should be "comparable in size to the Northwest federal hydroelectric system."

If that's not mind-bending, it remains big thinking, and the governor's plan will correctly trade on it.

It's time for Oregon to embrace the many unknowns -- technological and economic as well as political -- of its uncertain energy future. Oregon's security, comfort and so many family-wage jobs will depend on it.

The status quo, weighing us down already, will no longer do.


 
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