September 14, 2005

A campaign is underway to get Hood River County ranked first in the nation for the percentage of renewable energy it uses.

This week, about 5,500 customers of Pacific Power and Light (PP&L) will receive information about Blue Sky — alternative power — options.

Residents are also being asked to advocate for environmentally friendly energy by picking up a support sign at Mother’s Market to post in their yard.

Display stands have been set up in 20 retail outlets to provide an overview of the growing market for electricity produced from wind, solar, biomass and geothermal sources.

To further promote its clean energy programs, PP&L is providing wind power to Hood River’s Harvest Fest and Hops Fest in October — at no extra cost.

The company has already gotten two public agencies, 41 businesses and 550 residents to harness wind power for some or all of their electricity needs.

“Our goal is to challenge Hood River to become the nation’s leader in terms of renewable energy,” said Jaimes Valdez, consultant for Renewable Northwest Project (RNP).

RNP is a nonprofit organization that promotes alternate energy use in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana. Valdez has spent the summer months meeting with officials from a variety of local agencies to promote these power options:

Blue Sky Block gives customers the flexibility to spend $1.95 for each 100 kilowatts of power, about 6 cents more than the standard rate.

There is no minimum purchase requirement so people can buy as much or as little as they like.

Under Blue Sky Usage, customers purchase all of their metered power from renewable sources. The cost can fluctuate from month-to-month with usage but averages less than one penny more per kilowatt hour than the basic rate.

Blue Sky Habitat offers customers not only the same purchase option as Blue Sky Usage, but the opportunity to contribute $2.50 per month to The Nature Conservancy of Oregon for salmon habitat restoration.

Large businesses in Oregon can access Blue Sky QS (Quantity Savings) and pay even less for purchasing at least 101 blocks of renewable power per month for a period of one year.

“I have been very excited to see the participation rate growing weekly as people become increasingly aware of their renewable energy choices,” said Valdez.

He is working to boost the rate of wind power use among Hood River customers from the current 9.3 percent to 15 percent. He wants the city to earn top ranking in the United States for its support of “green power.”

If enough people sign on to the Blue Sky program, Valdez said the price of alternate energy will fall even further. He said the cost has already been significantly reduced from the $4.75 charged for each block of 100 kilowatt hours when the program was introduced in 1999.

PacifiCorp, the parent company of PP&L, intends to add 1,400 megawatts of renewable generation to the power grid within the next decade. The company believes that will not only decrease reliance upon fossil fuel and hydroelectric sources, but increase reliability and security with the electricity supply. Currently PacifiCorp ranks second in the nation for the number of customers enrolled in green power, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

To date, Valdez has convinced the Port of Hood River and Hood River County to utilize wind power generation. The port has agreed to purchase 10 percent of the Expo Center’s electricity – or 1,500 kilowatt hours – each month through Blue Sky.

The county is buying 185 blocks per month, the equivalent of all the electricity needed to run the county library. Valdez said the port has provided an environmental benefit by eliminating carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to 31 round trips between Portland and Hood River.

He figures the county has added fresh oxygen back into the atmosphere that is equivalent to planting 87 acres of trees.

“We have set renewable energy as one of our priorities with the thought that every person and business is responsible for the caretaking of our environment,” said Rodger Schock, commission chair.

He said the county is looking at possibly getting into the renewable energy business itself. A study is currently underway to determine if that revenue source would be feasible and affordable.

“Let’s encourage individuals and businesses to work with us for self-sufficiency so that Hood River County can produce the energy that it uses,” said Schock.

Maui Meyer, a commissioner and owner of the Sixth Street Bistro, was the first Hood River business to sign up for Blue Sky. He has long been an advocate of energy and building concepts that preserve resources and reduce pollution. Meyer has brought wind power online at the Bistro and soon will be using it in his new Yasui Building and Celilo restaurant.

“I think that renewable energy choices reflect where everyone is going to have to go and I’m all for it,” he said. “It’s doesn’t cost that much more and, as more people sign on, the cheaper it’s going to become.”

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