Energy: Conserving the future
Business leaders are taking the lead on education, health-care and revenue reform, but the community is less unified when it comes to energy planning, a policy arena likely to be dominated by Kitzhaber’s ambitious 10-year energy plan, which was to be finalized in December. The plan should boost momentum around clean energy and efficiency legislation, says John Audley, deputy director of the Renewable Northwest Project. “It should be a pretty interesting year for renewable-energy policy,” he says.
Mark Nelson, a veteran Salem lobbyist who represents large electrical users, such as food processors and timber companies, doesn’t quite see it that way. The energy plan is “something all businesses should be tremendously concerned about,” says Nelson, who predicts an increase in electrical rates should some of the proposals go through.
Critics and admirers alike say that one of the contentious issues this session involves lifting the 2015 expiration date on the state’s low-carbon fuel standard, which was passed in 2009 and mandates a 10% carbon reduction in Oregon fuels over the next decade. “There will be a big battle,” says Paul Romain, a Portland lobbyist who represents the Oregon Petroleum Association and supports letting the standard expire. Environmental organizations and biofuels companies such as ZeaChem, a Colorado company that operates a cellulose-based biorefinery facility in Boardman, advocate lifting the sunset on the standard.
Putting in place policy mechanisms that encourage use of alternative fuels is one of Kitzhaber’s top priorities. Another is meeting the bulk of the state’s new electrical load through efficiency and conservation measures. The Oregon Business Plan does have an energy strategy, and one of the plan’s action items is accelerating efficiency. Nevertheless, as businesses seek to refine the 10-year plan, a debate will inevitably spring up around costs, including funding mechanisms for new efficiency programs, the impact on electricity rates, and the role of utilities in meeting more aggressive efficiency goals.
Some renewable-power industry advocates also expressed concern that the focus on conservation will leave them out in the cold, especially since the industry is already reeling from cutbacks to the state’s business energy tax credit. “We are looking for some actions that will support the renewable sector, in which the state had become a leader,” says Robert Grott, executive director of the Northwest Environmental Business Council.
If incentives for large projects remain uncertain, the discussion around small renewable systems is “ripening,” according to Audley. To that end, Audley says he expects legislators to consider expanding the state’s feed-in tariff pilot program, in which utilities pay homeowners a fixed rate for the solar power they produce.
As these energy issues unfold, business leaders are also pushing for solutions that address water resources and balance the demands of agriculture, municipalities and sustainable fisheries. On the OBA agenda is a proposal for wintertime withdrawal of Columbia River water for underground storage to irrigate farms during the growing season.