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Energy at our feet

Posted by Renee Magyar on February 20, 2014

A wide world of opportunities awaits our newest program area

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Solar panels at a ranch in Klamath County. Photo courtesy of EcoSolar and Electric.

When I was a kid, I loved taking long showers. After my luxurious indulgences, I'd leave the bathroom with the lights on, steamy and hot, and return to my bedroom, where more lights and a space heater were waiting for me.  My mother, as with so many other things, had to nag me an awful lot. "Turn the lights off. Don't leave the heater on. You took another 45-minute shower..." Sometimes I listened, sometimes I didn't. "Ah," she would say, shaking her head, "when you have to pay the bills one day, you'll understand."

She was right. I get it now, as all grownups get it. We let the house get cold at night. We turn the water off while brushing our teeth. We let our lawns turn brown in the summer. We buy compact fluorescent lights. We pad our old homes with more insulation. No more 45-minute showers.  

But it's not just you and me who worry about the bills. We may grumble about ever-rising utility costs in the city, but in the country, energy and water are often much more expensive.

When the farmers market opens up again in the spring, think about the vendors selling our blueberries, peaches, fish, or beef. It takes a lot of energy and water to grow our food. Chances are, they are paying high electric bills to keep the seeds growing and bring the fruits of their labor to market. When was the last time you heard about a rich farmer?

One way or another, we are all paying for high energy use. Whether for growing produce or raising livestock, agricultural producers spend 85% of their energy use on irrigation, which contributes to the higher cost of local food. Running pumps to irrigate land used 5% of the regional electric grid last year.

We've been thinking about this for a while at Sustainable Northwest. We want to make sure that the local producers of our food, wood products, and other basics of life can operate not just viable, but thriving, businesses. We want to reduce pollution and dependence on fossil fuels, and make way for a clean energy economy.

So we've made energy a top priority. We're diving full speed ahead into a new series of projects:

  • Saving energy and water for farmers and ranchers in the Klamath Basin by improving irrigation practices
  • Bringing solar power to the agricultural sector in southern Oregon
  • Identifying opportunities for dry farming, micro hydro, and wind power
  • Bringing investors to back renewable energy projects throughout the region

This is just the beginning. Of course, we continue to spearhead biomass in Oregon and Idaho, merging sensible, clean energy development with job creation and land restoration. As with the rest of our work, we're looking for triple bottom line solutions with equal environmental, economic, and community benefits.

The cost of our homegrown apples, bread, and potatoes is unlikely to go down, but we're behind the scenes, helping communities offset high costs and continue family livelihoods. When that favorite pastime and weekly ritual that is the farmers market opens up again, buy lots of produce to support the local economy. Keep those long showers to a minimum and those lights off when you're not in the room. In this way, we are all reducing our ecological impact, and taking care of our regional, communal need for generations to come. Let's make our children to be proud of the legacy we are leaving them.

Dimitra Giannakoulias is Communications and Operations Associate at Sustainable Northwest.