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Promoting renewable energy means more jobs.


Jobs versus environmental stewardship are at the core of the coal train debate. But why even consider coal exports when renewable energy investment creates more jobs and a healthier environment?

Tapping Oregon's vast renewable energy resources, we can create family-wage jobs and export solar panels, wind turbines and expertise.

Experience across the globe demonstrates that a renewable energy feed-in tariff - a FIT - rapidly increases supplies of clean, cost-effective electricity and creates the jobs that come with it. Renewable energy investments stabilize costs to ratepayers over time, just as Oregonians today benefit from early 20th century investments in hydropower.

A well-designed tariff requires utilities to purchase all electricity fed into the grid from customer-generated renewables. FITs pay everyone a fixed price designed to cover costs plus a reasonable return on investment. Program costs are spread equitably across all ratepayers, as are the costs for large, centralized fossil fuel generation plants.

Germany's 13-year old tariff has created more than 300,000 jobs. Germany now employs more people in renewable energy industries than in coal and nuclear industries combined.

Last February, it was German wind turbines that saved nuclear France from blackouts during a severe cold snap. The fourth-largest industrial nation set a world record for solar photo voltaics generation, producing almost half of Germany's peak electricity on May 22. German farmers, small businesses and individuals own more than 50 percent of these resources.

Oregonians for Renewable Energy Policy submitted a legislative concept for a Clean Energy Economy Act to Oregon Rep. Jules Bailey, D-Portland, in time to meet the deadline for the 2013 legislative session. The proposal is a successor to Oregon's 25-megawatt Solar Pilot Program for a feed-in tariff, which ends April 2014.

The bill sets new annual procurement requirements for Oregon's investor-owned utilities - a total of 500 megawatts of new renewable energy by 2020 - to be met through standard offer contracts open to all Oregonians.

For perspective, Eugene's solar photo voltaic capacity on existing large roof space is more than 525 megawatts.

Oregon's investor-owned utilities generate more than 55 percent of their electricity from fossil fuels, while Oregon's consumer- owned utilities deliver less than 17 percent of their electricity from coal or nuclear.

To increase Oregon's total energy mix from clean energy resources, only the investor-owned utilities will be required to purchase the new renewable energy - yet up to 30 percent can come from customer- generators in consumer-owned service territories, such as the Eugene Water & Electric Board or the Emerald People's Utility District.

In addition to solar photo voltaics, the program adds wind, micro-hydro and farm biogas technologies, making a 500-megawatt statewide target clearly achievable. It allows the expanded pool of participants to sell all the energy they produce - even if it exceeds what they consume - and proposes a new governance structure to oversee this refined program.

The FIT program recirculates energy dollars longer in Oregon, stimulating the economy across the state. A 2012 study indicates that a 250-megawatt wind farm can generate 1,079 direct jobs over the project life, 650 of which could be Oregon-based.

Research in 2007 from the University of California, Berkeley, showed that every installed megawatt of solar photovoltaic capacity creates 33 jobs. Oregon is already home to six major solar photovoltaic manufacturers, a global wind turbine company and has two nationally recognized community college programs that train wind, solar and energy efficiency technicians.

Installing 300 megawatts of wind and 50 megawatts of solar photovoltaic under the 500 megawatt program could create close to 2,000 direct manufacturing, installation and maintenance jobs in Oregon. Profits from electricity sales under the act would go to farmers, houses of worship, schools, small businesses and homeowners.

Community-owned projects allow people who don't own property or have a suitable location for renewables, to pool resources to install a project.

As Ernie Niemi stated in his Oct. 2 guest viewpoint, coal trains traveling through Lane County have effects reaching far beyond coal dust and jobs. While proposed coal exports could create only an estimated 544 jobs and $36 million in annual income, burning that same coal anywhere could impose $1,900 per year in climate change related costs on every Oregon household.

The recent heat wave across most of the United States and Eugene's longest drought in 70 years are good reasons to take note of our changing climate. James Hansen, the director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, recently stated that "our analysis shows that, for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change."

It is clear that we can improve our environment and create jobs in rural and urban communities throughout Oregon. The choice is ours: whether we create a few hundred jobs with corporate profits going out of state - or thousands of jobs paying Oregonians to install and generate clean, renewable electricity.

Ray Neff of Eugene is communications coordinator for Oregonians for Renewable Energy Policy.
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Title Annotation:Guest Viewpoint
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Geographic Code:1U9OR
Date:Oct 18, 2012
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