Clean energy gains momentum

Posted by Renee Magyar on June 5, 2014

Solar opportunities are brewing in the Klamath Basin

Solar panel installation. Credit: Obsidian Renewables

On June 2nd the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a new regulation to cut carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel-based electric generation facilities. Currently, the EPA regulates pollutants such as arsenic, mercury, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides, but not carbon.

Power plants account for roughly one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. The proposed regulation would cut carbon dioxide from existing coal plants by up to 30% by 2030, compared with 2005 levels. This is great news for the renewable energy and energy efficiency sectors, who believe that carbon regulations add to the environmental health benefits, cost effectiveness, and reliability of renewable and energy efficient technologies. As Rhone Resch, president and chief executive of the Solar Energy Industries reminded us this week, renewable energy is a “compliant technology.” This means it abides by the Clean Air Act as well as the new proposed regulation.

In April, Sustainable Northwest brought together Klamath Basin stakeholders with solar policy, financing, and development experts to discuss 1) energy goals, 2) potential barriers, and 3) possibilities for introducing local energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. The meeting resulted in a great deal of optimism and hope. Efficiency upgrades on irrigation pumps along with new solar energy projects could reduce the load and costs of energy for farmers and ranchers in the Basin.

Senator Ron Wyden’s recently introduced legislation to implement the Klamath Basin agreements will not only improve natural resource management and economic development, but also invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. Power prices in the Klamath Basin have ratcheted up almost 2,000% since 2006, when a 50-year contract expired between the U.S. Department of Interior, the Bureau of Reclamation, and PacifiCorp, the local energy utility whose portfolio relies heavily on coal. The loss of this affordable power has created tension and fear with area farmers but has also motivated them to improve their irrigation efficiency, reduce pumping costs in their energy bills, and embrace renewable options.

Sustainable Northwest will be working with elected officials, philanthropists, and power developers to fund and pursue new energy opportunities.  We’ll be working on the ground with the agricultural and tribal communities to implement this dual strategy approach for immediate and long-term energy power cost reduction and water savings.

We can all agree that maintaining a viable agricultural community is critical to the ecological, social, and economic health of the Klamath Basin. To do this, the state and local community need to pursue new ideas and technologies like solar, and maximize energy conservation by upgrading irrigation practices. Meanwhile, the proposed EPA regulation and legislation for the Klamath Basin agreements can lay the necessary foundation for a clean energy economy and lasting recovery of the Klamath River Basin.