Officials representing Central Oregon’s electric utility cooperatives advised a top state energy official Thursday night that many of the provisions of Gov. John Kitzhaber’s draft 10-year Energy Action Plan, “while laudable, need to better reflect the economic interests and energy-related achievements of rural Oregonians.”
Testifying at the hearing on the Central Oregon Community College campus were Dave Markham, president and chief executive officer of Central Electric Cooperative, and Ted Case, executive director of the Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association.
The hearing was the second of three public meetings chaired by Energy Adviser Margi Hoffman to gather input on the plan created by a task force appointed by the governor.
The co-op officials agreed with the Oregon chief executive’s proclamation that “energy is the issue of our time,” but expressed disappointment about cooperatives’ exclusion from the planning process.
“Because electric cooperatives were not included in the development of the energy plan, I respectfully view it as only 35 percent complete,” said Markham. “Electric cooperatives serve more than 200,000 members in an area covering 65 percent of the land mass of Oregon. Sixty-five percent of the state was left out of being able to contribute.”
The officials testified that the plan does not clearly recognize the significant difference between the business models for member-owned, non-profit cooperatives and those of investor-owned, for-profit utilities such as Pacific Power or Portland General Electric.
The investor-owned utilities generally serve concentrated population areas with power supplied by a wide variety of sources.
Oregon’s cooperatives serve largely rural areas with widely dispersed consumers, with almost all power coming from the Bonneville Power Administration and the emission-free hydroelectric power produced by the federal system of dams in the Northwest.
The executives told Hoffman that cooperatives already possess impressive records in the plan areas with the strongest relevance to the electric utility industry -- energy efficiency and renewable energy usage.
Case expressed concern that the plan’s emphasis on new renewable energy development undervalues one of the region’s greatest strengths and accomplishments.
“Our state’s greatest energy asset is hydropower,” said Case. “The governor’s energy plan should more forcefully reflect the importance of this clean, renewable resource to Oregon families.”
In response to the plan’s objective of offsetting all future growth in demand with energy efficiency and conservation activities, Markham issued a caution and spoke to cooperatives’ impressive record.
Efficiency program participation by Central Electric members over the past ten years will save enough electricity over the measures’ lifetime to meet the annual needs of 10,000 average households. But an emerging industry, partially drawn to Oregon by state and local economic development efforts, is poised to easily overwhelm such achievements, he said.
“CEC is working with several data centers seeking to build facilities near Prineville,” said Markham. “These data centers could quickly triple CEC’s average system load of 80 megawatts. It isn’t reasonable to believe that CEC can offset this magnitude of load growth with conservation and energy efficiency.”
The two executives also said the plan may be asking cooperatives to do more while failing to recognize the progress they’ve already achieved in smart grid development, renewable energy research and development, and energy efficiency and conservation.
They cautioned that promoting conversions to natural gas for home heat was largely unworkable for much of rural Oregon.
“Oregon’s electric cooperatives agree the state should have an energy plan,” said Markham, “but any plan must have the correct balance between the environmental benefits and economic costs.”
A member-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperative, Central Electric (CEC) has provided electric utility services to its members in central Oregon since 1940. At the close of 2011,
CEC’s 80 employees served 31,774 accounts held by 24,952 members in its 5,300 square-mile service territory in Deschutes, Crook, Jefferson, and parts of Lake, Linn, Wasco, and Grant counties.
CEC’s electrical system includes 24 substations and 3,808 miles of energized power lines, including 183 miles of transmission line, 2,256 miles of overhead distribution line and 1,369 miles of underground distribution line.
The Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association represents 18 electric cooperative utilities in Oregon that receive power from the emission-free hydropower resources marketed by the Bonneville Power Administration. These utilities serve in 30 of Oregon’s 36 counties and provide electricity to over 200,000 customers.