We are ‘Making Energy Work for Rural Oregon’

Posted by Lee Rahr on December 17, 2015

Oregon communities find energy solutions through our energy workshop series

Karen Chase with Energy Trust of Oregon conveys an important sentiment of the Oregon Department of Energy

We are halfway through our Making Energy Work for Rural Oregon workshop series, and are already seeing community-driven solutions for a clean energy future. Workshops in Talent, Hood River, and John Day, Oregon were each a success and we are looking forward to the upcoming workshops in Klamath Falls, Roseburg, and Dufur in 2016.

As we close out 2015, we would like to recap and acknowledge the great partnerships and progress being made by these communities’ municipal leaders, stakeholders, and public participants who are all working together to pursue a clean energy economy.

Talent was the first workshop in the series, and this community led the charge! Leaders from Together for Talent, Rogue Climate, and the City of Talent recruited over 60 participants, which is an excellent turnout for the small town of 6200 residents. 

Presenters in Talent noted that of the $13 billion a year spent on energy in Oregon, the vast majority of that investment comes from out-of-state fossil fuels, 25% of which is used for our homes. Presentations focused on lessons from Lakeview, clean energy planning, residential and commercial clean energy, available incentives and tax credits, and also new models for community solar. Primary takeaways from the group were: 

  • commit to developing a clean energy action plan,

  • pursue programs to decrease residential energy use and costs,
  • partner with the Oregon Clean Power Co-op to install solar panels on the new community center roof or other identified public facilities

Talent Mayor Darby Stricker attended the workshop and galvanized the formation of an energy planning committee. It was heartwarming to hear Stricker tell Jim Walls, workshop co-organizer, inspirational speaker, rancher, and shepherd of Lakeview’s renewable energy charge, “Cowboy, you’re my hero!” This was exactly the tone, motivation, and excitement that fueled the Talent workshop. 

Not to be outdone by Talent, Hood River Gorge Owned, the Columbia Gorge Climate Action Network, and the City of Hood River put on the next workshop. Again, as many as 60 participants attended, including all of the Hood River City Councilors, many County Commissioners, Mayor Paul Blackburn, and local residents. 

Hood River presentations covered sectors from biomass to street lighting. Emphasis was placed on identifying sectors that are big energy users and identifying actionable strategies to continue to move Hood River forward. Walls reiterated how energy investments can bring new jobs and tax dollars into the region while energy efficiency programs and projects are important in retaining local dollars; dollars that are put back into the pockets of its residents. “This was the exact mix of people I wanted to see. I hope you will join me in a working group to target identified priorities,” said Hood River Councilor Becky Brun. 

Councilor Brun did just that by hosting a follow-up energy planning meeting on December 16th where local city, county, school, and other community leaders and stakeholders came together to begin the planning process. Primary priorities from the two meetings include:

  • create a diverse stakeholder process which sets community goals, 

  • increase efforts for energy efficiency and renewable installations on city-owned properties including a partnership with the Oregon Clean Power Coop,
  • identify permitting opportunities to reduce soft costs for solar energy and address other barriers
  • relaunch GO! Solar, a Solarize group-purchasing program 

During the meeting, Mayor Blackburn recounted a recent conversation he had with Senator Merkley after the Paris climate negotiations, paraphrasing the Senator’s sentiments that “it’s small groups like yours, that are having the most impact.” 

Our last workshop for the year was in John Day, hosted by Grant County, the City of John Day, and GREAT Corp. Jim Walls again provided an excellent backdrop for the discussion, reporting that 25% of Lake County’s thermal electric load is generated locally; a policy that could be replicated by Grant County. Other participating leaders in the forestry and biomass industry provided an overview of the region’s potential for managing forest health while utilizing local biomass. 

Biomass continued to be the theme of the day. Participants identified short term action items including: 

  • host a spring forest field tour with legislators and other stakeholders,

  • commission a case study for policy changes and increased investments in biomass utilization in the county, 
  • engage with the Governor’s office, legislators, and Regional Solutions on forest plan revisions and the legislative agenda for 2016, 
  • partner with the Oregon Renewable Energy Co-op on the feasibility of a biomass boiler for the John Day library

Other priorities include outreach on residential energy efficiency for low income residents, drip irrigation and other efficiencies for agriculture producers, and use of the city’s waste water treatment plant to provide grey water for local agricultural producers. 

Jim Bahrenburg from North Fork Ranch said it was “one of the best events I’ve been to in forty years. I hope our county can make the needed changes.” 

Sustainable Northwest looks forward to helping these communities meet their energy goals, and supporting Klamath Falls, Roseburg’s, and Dufur’s efforts in 2016. 

Thank you to our Sponsors: