Oregon Green Energy Guide
This green energy resource guide is an attempt to aggregate and survey information on sustainable energy in Portland and Oregon.
This report is the personal project of the author, Sam Churchill, who has no particular expertise in this field. The motivation is simply to create an overview of trends and developments in sustainable energy as they relate to Portland and Oregon. No compensation of any type was involved. I generally support the goals of sustainability, although I’ve attempted to minimize any point of view here.
Utility-scale, alternative power in Oregon and Portland, solar and wind energy providers, and green building leadership in Portland are overviewed here, but many smaller “green” or sustainable-focused firms have not been listed or described.
I’ve added newer sections on oil, gas and coal trains traveling through the Columbia Gorge. Those sections have become a sprawling, disorganized mess. I intend to prune them down and make them more readable, soon.
Oregon Green Energy Guide
Table of Contents
- Growth of Green Economy
- Energy Map
- Wind Farms in Oregon
- Solar Power in Oregon
- Wave Power in Oregon
- Electric Cars in Oregon
- Charge Stations in Oregon
- Battery Innovation in Portland
- Questions Over Subsidies
- Energy Financing
- Coal Fired Electric Plants
- Coal Export on the Columbia
- Coal Export in Coos Bay
- Coal Opposition and Support
- Oil Exporting on the Columbia
- Railroad Congestion and Safety
- Natural Gas in Oregon
- Liquified Natural Gas in Oregon
- Methanol on the Columbia
- Ethanol and Biodiesel in Oregon
- Bio Mass in Oregon
- Fuel Cells in Oregon
- Nuclear Power
- Co-generation in Oregon
- Geothermal Power in Oregon
- Green Buildings
- Energy Storage in Oregon
- Inverters and Electronics in Oregon
- The Smart Grid in Oregon
- Solar Projects in Portland
- More Information and Resources
Oregon and Portland is becoming a green energy hub,  with utility scale energy generation using Wind, Solar and Wave, investments in electric car charging infrastructure, batteries and inverter technology, and a green building hub providing leadership nationwide.
This map of NW Power Generation shows where we get our power. Today, the Northwest relies on hydropower for about half of its electricity, and 40 percent of all U.S. hydropower comes from the Columbia system. Some 74 percent of the power generated in the Columbia River basin comes from dams, with 38.6 gigawatts of the 52.3 gigawatt total.
In 2007, the Oregon Legislature enacted the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, a rule requiring the state’s largest utilities to generate at least 25 percent of their power from renewable sources like wind and solar. That goal has been largely achieved, with the states of Oregon and Washington benefiting from revenue coming back home.
Wind and solar power now produce about 10% of the electricity generated in the US, according to new analysis by the Energy Information Administration (EIA).
Electricity generation, natural gas, transportation, and large industrial sources add up to about 85 percent of all climate pollution in Oregon. Oregon’s cap-and-trade legislation would limit pollution and put proceeds toward clean energy and jobs.
Mexico, Canada and the US made a major commitment to source 50 percent of their electricity from clean sources by the year 2025. Meanwhile, Germany passed a groundbreaking measure that effectively bans fracking for all practical purposes. Sunpower set a new world record for rooftop solar efficiency, and a recent report projects that the average cost of solar and wind power will fall by 59 percent in the next decade.
The report finds that by 2025, the global average cost of electricity from solar PV and onshore wind will be around five to six cents per kilowatt hour. The implication is clear: coal, oil and natural gas won’t be cost/competitive for long…at least where there is plenty of sun and wind.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s report, forecasts wind and solar will “dominate” the future of electricity by 2040, making up 48% of the world’s installed capacity and 34% of electricity generation. Solar is already at least as cheap as coal in Germany, Australia, the U.S., Spain and Italy. The levelized cost of electricity from solar is set to drop another 66% by 2040.
The Federal Clean Power Plan
The new Clean Power Plan would have required power plants to cut emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. According to EPA chief Gina McCarthy, it will reduce coal’s share of electric generation to 27 percent by 2030—down from 39 percent in 2014—while natural gas will remain steady at 30 percent and renewable energy’s share will increase to 28 percent. The plan was repealed by the Trump administration.
PGE’s wind, solar and hydro segments (below) include long-term contracts as well as PGE-owned resources.
In order to avoid a rush to natural gas, credits will be given to states that start work on renewable energy projects ahead of 2022 which can then be traded between states.
The $375 billion electricity market will face big changes with the Clean Power Plan. The EPA issued more than 1,500 pages of rules and guidelines for the power sector but it’s leaving it to each state to craft their own plans to achieve the required emissions reductions. Oregon’s goal under the plan equates to a 20 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, far less stringent than the 48 percent reduction contemplated in 2014’s draft rules.
Electricity generation (from coal) and transportation (using gas and oil) are the largest sources of green house gases (primarily CO2). In the United States, electricity generation accounts for nearly 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, the largest of any source.
According to a Bloomberg New Energy Finance study, green energy is now close to the cost of dirty sources like coal and gas. The tipping point arrived several years ago in places like Hawaii where oil and gas must be shipped in and hydro-power is limited.
The Levelised Cost of Energy for coal-fired generation increased from $66 per MWh to $75 in the Americas, from $68 to $73 in Asia-Pacific, and from $82 to $105 in Europe. The global average cost of onshore wind power has dipped to $83 per megawatt-hour, while solar power now costs $122.
For generating electricity in the US, coal and gas were still cheaper a few years ago, at $65 per MWh, against wind at $80 and PV at $107. But that’s changing fast with cheaper wind, solar, and energy storage options as well as higher cost of producing greenhouse gases.
The transportation industry is currently driven by fossil fuels but cheaper, longer range electric vehicles will have a significant impact over the next 20 years, according to many projections.
Electric generation from solar and wind cuts emissions dramatically … and the energy source is “free”. Electric vehicles reduce oil consumption. Conservation measures (such as converting to LED lighting) also save energy (and money). Whether these measures will be enough to prevent big social/economic problems in the future is still not certain.
By the end of 2014, renewable energy accounted for a 27.7 percent of the world power generating capacity, equivalent to supplying 22.8 percent of the global electricity demand.
Renewables would bring some energy revenue back to Oregon. PacifCorp, which gets about two thirds of its power supply from coal-fired power plants outside of Oregon, has pledged to shut 10 coal units by 2030 or convert them to run on natural gas. PGE’s Boardman facility is the only coal-fired power plant in Oregon, but PGE also buys coal-powered electricity from out of state.
Critics argue the federal plan is on shaky legal ground, but the administration says it’s prepared to defend the regulations in court.
Business Oregon, the state’s economic development agency, has closely tracked “green” jobs since 2009, says agency director Tim McCabe. Oregon topped the nation in a new Clean Jobs Index, reports Sustainable Business Oregon.
The Clean Jobs Index for Oregon is compiled from 4 categories. Each category begins as 25% of the Clean Jobs Index.
Skeptics of renewable energy investments say the government should not be in the business of making bets. They site examples like Solyndra, which went bust soon after the federal government pumped more than $500 million into the solar start-up.
Critics may have a point. SoloPower, a solar energy startup that received millions in incentives to open a Portland manufacturing plant, is suspending operations in North Portland by the summer of 2013, barely a year since it commenced operations.
Portland’s two marque green energy businesses, SolarWorld and Vestas have recently suffered downturns. SolarWorld, the German crystaline solar panel manufacturer, which has operated a taxpayer-subsidized factory in Hillsboro, is under severe price pressure by the Chinese, while wind turbine powerhouse, Vestas, was hammered by a plunging stock price, and lost its lead in global wind turbine market share. Like many industries, they experience economic fluctuations.
Oregonians for Sound Fuel Policy is one of over 15 front groups that purport to represent the views of concerned citizens and the broader business community, but funded by Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, ConocoPhillips, BP, and others.
Green energy advocates say Oregon has what it takes; the silicon processing expertise, the wind, the waves, and a massive regional power distribution network. It’s a natural fit.
Electricity is a strong focus of sustainability efforts because it is cleaner and more sustainable than burning fossil fuels. Moving from coal-powered electric power generating plants to solar and wind-powered alternatives is one thrust. Moving cars to electricity or alternative fuels like ethanol using corn or wood fiber is another thrust. A third thrust, of course, is conservation.
These initiatives, it is argued, can be justified on both economic and environmental grounds, and constitute sound policy.
The average U.S. household uses about 10,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year, reports Sustainable Business Oregon. Photovoltaics and wind turbines, installed on residences or businesses can generate as much as 20-30% of the average daily demand. A typical residential solar array is 3-5 KW, while the average residential and small business wind projects are about 10 KW in size. Solar, of course, only works while the sun shines and wind turbines are dependent on wind.
It’s a tough sell without tax incentives and kickbacks. Oregon has some of the cheapest electric rates in the nation.
Oregon is one of seven states that offers incentives of $2 per watt or more. Federal tax credits, combined with cash incentives from Energy Trust of Oregon and the state Oregon Business Energy Tax Credits allow developers to recover most of the cost of installation in just a few years.
The Portland Development Commission is focusing on three core clusters within the cleantech industry, reports Sustainable Business Oregon.
- Clean energy, with a focus on wind- and solar-powered generation.
- Green development, which includes both green building technologies and energy-efficiency retrofits.
- Electric vehicles and the associated sectors, which includes energy storage.
For clean energy, the region’s big players, are SolarWorld and Vestas. For green development, the PDC will continue to promote the building of the Oregon Sustainability Center, and for the electric vehicles, PDC will work with Drive Oregon and development-focused businesses such as Swiss battery technology company ReVolt.
Research firm Clean Edge surveyed more than 3,500 data points and 70 major indicators drawing from both municipal and private data sources to evaluate all 50 states in the U.S. for how well they did on policy, technology, and capital when it came to green tech. Oregon came in second, after California.
Ron Pernick, founder of Clean Edge, literally wrote the book — The Clean Tech Revolution a 2007 book that proclaimed that commercializing clean technologies is a profitable enterprise. He highlighted eight major clean technology sectors: solar power, wind power, biofuels, green buildings, personal transportation, the smart grid, mobile applications, and water filtration.
Pivotal Investments created a list of future clean-technology leaders with a mix of early-stage entrepreneurs, investors and senior executives leading the charge in the Northwest.
Green businesses, say proponents, benefit Oregonians by bringing jobs and money here. The jury may still be out on longer term results, but it’s undeniable that a large number of solar, wind and wave businesses, as well as related “green industries” have recently moved into Oregon and Portland.
World energy consumption keeps going up, according to BP. Renewables accounted for 2.7% of global consumption in 2013, up from 0.8% a decade ago. But coal accounted for 30.1% of total primary energy consumption, the highest proportion since 1970, suggesting a prioritization of cheap rather than clean sources of energy.
Climate Change Science
There is another motivation for green industry; the sustainability of our environment and life style.
A consensus has been reached by 97% of climate scientists: Climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities. The 2014 report on Mitigation of Climate Change by the UN, advised mitigation to “stabilize greenhouse gas levels to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner”.
Coal consumption from electric power plants and fossil fuel use by vehicles are two of the biggest drivers of climate change, say scientists.
Former U.S. Treasury Sec. Henry Paulson, who was in office when the economy collapsed in 2008, says climate change is the biggest risk of our time. Paulson co-chairs the Risky Business Project, a nonpartisan business group focused on the issue and addressed the Portland City Club on the economic impacts of climate change.
James Hansen’s global climate models has contributed to the understanding of the Earth’s climate.
The Kyoto Protocol had two commitment periods, one from 2005-2012, and the second 2012-2020. The US has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol. The United States and China have agreed to intensify efforts to address climate change and seek common agreement.
Sam Avery, author of The Pipeline and the Paradigm, warns that there’s enough carbon in the tar sands “to send Earth’s climate into an irreversible tailspin.”
And we have five times as much fuel as we need to do that right at our fingertips, proven reserves. We used to think, years ago, that we were going to run out of fossil fuel; we’re going to run just about the time that we really need to get off it for climate reasons.
But that’s not going to happen; we’re not going to run out.
The economy is not going to solve this problem for us. It’s not going to price fossil fuel out of the market. We are going to have to decide where, when, and how we’re going to stop burning this fuel.”
In 2011 the global economy emitted 32.6 billion metric tons of carbon pollution, reports the NY Times. The United States was responsible for 5.5 billion tons of that (coming in second to China, which emitted 8.7 billion tons). Within the United States, electric power plants produced 2.8 billion tons of those greenhouse gases, while vehicle tailpipe emissions from burning gasoline produced 1.9 billion tons.
Coal-fired power plants and fossil fuel are the biggest contributors to global warming. Global warming is caused by releasing what are called greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The most common greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide.
350 parts per million is what many scientists, climate experts, and progressive national governments are now saying is the safe upper limit for CO2 in our atmosphere. The current level is over 400 parts per million and headed towards 450 ppm in 5-10 years. 350 PPM is supposedly the number humanity needs to get back to as soon as possible to avoid runaway climate change.
Barack Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 included more than $70 billion in direct spending and tax credits for clean energy and associated programs. While only 3 million Americans can beat grid prices with $3.50 per Watt solar and no incentives, 41 million Americans can beat grid prices using the 30% federal tax credit.
Hydroelectric dams in the Columbia River Basin account for one third of all the hydroelectric capacity in the United States, according to the US Energy Information Administration, although hydro accounts for only 8.4% of power production nationwide.
According to the US government’s 2013 Energy Infrastructure Update (pdf), renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) have accounted for more than a third of all new electrical generating capacity in 2013.
“Oregonians often think we get most of our electricity from hydropower. In fact, Portland gets nearly two-thirds of our electricity from coal and gas. And because most of that is generated outside Oregon’s borders, we have little say over choice of fuels,” mayor Charle Hales said of the White House conference on clean power.