Utilities: The conservation solution
|Number of green jobs: 407|
In 2010 more than 120,000 Oregon electric customers chose to pay a little extra on their power bills to support renewable energy. Only Texas, with more than six times the population, signed up more people for so-called green pricing, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. When it comes to cutting carbon and conserving power, Oregon’s electric customers put their money where their mouth is. Governor Kitzhaber’s 10-year Energy Action Plan aims to offset all electrical load growth with conservation, and so far Oregon is on track. That’s thanks in part to laws dating back to 1999 requiring the state’s largest utilities to divert about 5% of revenues to conservation. The Energy Trust of Oregon uses those funds to incentivize weatherization, small-scale renewable power and the purchase of efficient appliances. Since 2002 those efforts have saved 368 megawatts, helping Oregon reduce electricity consumption even as its population grew.
“We’re buying energy through efficiency at 2.5 cents a kilowatt hour, a third of the cost for electricity and less than two-thirds the cost for natural gas,” says Margie Harris, Energy Trust’s executive director. “So we’re getting a very fine deal.”
Additionally, Clean Energy Works Oregon has given homeowners $2.7 million in rebates for about 2,400 residential energy upgrades since 2011. The nonprofit is bringing down energy use in 19 counties by leveraging $20 million in federal stimulus funding.
Oregon also aims to cut the environmental impact of its utilities through renewable portfolio standards. By generating or acquiring electricity from renewable sources equivalent to 16.9% of its Oregon load in 2011, Portland General Electric blew past its 5% RPS target for that year, according to the state’s Public Utility Commission. So did Pacific Power, with 13.5% green generation.
The electricity market is not confined to state borders, though. About 80% of the electricity generated in Oregon comes from hydro plants and other renewable sources, but much of that clean power is exported to utilities meeting renewable portfolio standards in other states. For example, Southern California Edison purchases all the power generated by the 845-megawatt Shepherds Flats wind-energy project in eastern Oregon.
According to the Oregon Department of Energy, 35.5% of the power Oregonians use still comes from coal, and another 16.2% comes from natural gas. Oregon’s renewable portfolio standard will eventually bring those percentages down as the state aims to consume 25% of its power from renewable sources by 2025. But in doing so, it will likely face competition for green energy from other Western states with similar targets.