Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s eyes light up when he starts talking about the benefits that windmills, solar panels and biofuels could bring his state.
Though the $30 million that Kulongoski allotted in his two-year budget proposal for green energy is dwarfed by the billions he wants to spend on education and health care, the governor thinks it’s the first step in freeing the country from its dependence on fossil fuels.
“I think Oregon can be … this national crucible for the development of this industry,” the governor said this week in an interview. “The state government can be a model for the private sector.”
To that end, his budget includes $5.2 million for the nation’s first in-water wave generation and demonstration research facility, $2 million to the state’s Energy Department to place solar panels on top of schools and $10 million to foster geothermal projects at Oregon universities. And $3.7 million would provide tax breaks for businesses that use and make products that consume biofuel.
But the governor’s goals already are drawing sharp criticism from some Republicans who warn that pouring money into technologies that have yet to turn an economic profit isn’t sustainable.
Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, cautioned against jumping into “cockamamie, harebrained, uneconomic policies” that would “leave the Oregon citizen with a bill.”
Kulongoski said investing in renewable energy will pay off in the long run because it reduces reliance on foreign oil and associated energy spikes that could hurt Oregon residents and businesses.
“It is a national security issue,” Kulongoski said. “It’s an economic issue, about a sustainable economy. It’s about a healthy environment. It’s about global warming, they are all interconnected. Somebody has to start the debate someplace as to what we’re doing and how to get there.”
Kulongoski’s goals for the session – to pass legislation that would require utilities to draw 5 percent of their energy from renewables by 2011 and 25 percent by 2025 – would place Oregon firmly alongside neighboring Washington and California. Both states already have passed similar goals.
Oregon has long generated cheap electricity through its extensive dams system. Ferrioli said the state should focus on expanding its existing hydropower capabilities.
The governor’s team acknowledged that there could be trade-offs.
“There could be some short-term rate impact associated with what we’re doing, but over time we are increasingly convinced that Oregon will be much better off making these investments today,” said Peter Cogswell, a senior policy adviser on energy for the governor.
Environmentalists support the use of renewables to generate electricity because they pollute less than fossil fuels. But increasingly, renewable energy advocates are highlighting other advantages associated with locally produced power.
“Renewables help us establish stable rates over a long period of time because they have no fuel cost, so there is no volatility,” said Rachel Shimshak, director of the Renewable Northwest Project.
Shimshak said renewables present decreased risk for utilities looking to expand capacity, because they don’t emit carbon.
Portland General Electric, one of the state’s largest utilities, already offers its customers the choice to buy electricity generated by renewables – but they must pay extra.
By Aaron Clark
The Associated Press
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