Oregon Needs More Solar Power and Less Coal
Oregon has a wide variety of energy sources which it draws on to fill the needs of its residents. As technology develops throughout the world, we see our own energy needs increasing. Not only for our personal needs, but also as Oregon businesses increase production to fulfill worldwide demand of their products. Our state needs to find alternative sources of energy that can fulfill this demand, but also maintain our reputation as a clean and energy efficient state.
Currently in Oregon, over forty percent of all energy used is produced by coal [DOE]. Coal is an undesirable energy source due to the pollution created when burning it for energy. Carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxide, and sulfur dioxide are all released into the environment by coal energy. These substances entering the atmosphere have, in part, been a cause for global warming [Union].
Coal can also be an expensive and unpredictable energy source. Between 2000 and 2008 the cost of coal per short ton increased by nearly five-hundred percent [EIA]. This impacts the price to the consumer directly, taking money out of the family and businesses pocket, and going into out-of-state economies.
The vast majority of this coal energy in Oregon is imported from Wyoming and Montana [Oregon]. With the state unemployment rate at nearly nine percent, it seems our local economy should spend energy money on homegrown solutions that energize and employ our state population.
Should we be moving energy production away from coal?
These critiques of coal are only a portion of Oregon's energy issues. While the search for alternative energy sources should always continue, investment into new ways of producing power today have been increasing in Oregon. A drive through the columbia river gorge is a testament to Oregon’s pursuit of new fuel. With the John Day Dam that was completed in 1971, to the windmills which seem to increase in number by the day, it is obvious that Oregon is committed to harnessing efficient energy. One environmentally friendly contender in Oregon has been the budding solar industry.
Solar energy has been under fire for many years due to the high cost and low energy output of solar cells. To efficiently produce one-trillion kilowatt hours of solar power, it would cost almost eight cents per kilowatt hour. To produce the same amount of energy with coal costs half that, at roughly four cents per kilowatt hour [Conca]. This cost ratio makes it hard to justify initial investments, when the power can be had now for cheaper rates from other states. But as stated earlier, the price of coal is unstable and tends to rise in the long term. What may be a cheap and reliable energy source today, can be scarce and expensive fifty years from now. This instability gives us reason to invest in solar as it collects energy from a near limitless source; the sun.
A solar industry can have benefits that overshadow kilowatt prices as well. The solar manufacturing industry in Oregon has already brought thousands of jobs to the state [Wood]. Not only have our government officials created an appealing financial environment for companies to locate here, but Oregon is a great central location for the national and worldwide solar market. Surrounding states such as California and Washington have created tax incentives that encourage the installation of solar panels, which conveniently will be purchased from Oregon manufacturers. And as the state increases tax incentives for individuals and businesses to install solar panels on their buildings, jobs involving installation and maintenance increase as well. This can be a double edged sword though. The state and federal government cannot subsidise solar installation and manufacturing forever. If these companies do not become self sufficient, they will fall apart when the tax money runs out.
In conclusion, we Oregonians take pride in the natural beauty of our state. We seek energy efficiency and independence. While coal power is cheap and available at the moment, we should not wait until our energy situation is dire before we seek more elegant solutions. Solar power, while still in its infancy, has proven to be a strong contender for power production, as well as helping to boost our economy with new jobs. If we continue to invest, we will continue to see rewards that coincide with our vision of a greener economy and future.
Conca, James. Forbes. “The Direct Costs of Energy: Why Solar Will Continue To Lag Hydro And Nukes”. 8 Jul 2012 (7 Dec 2012) http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2012/07/08/the-direct-costs-of-energy-hydronuclear-best-solar-still-lagging/
DOE. Oregon.gov. “Where does Oregon’s Electricity come from?” (9 Dec 2012) http://www.oregon.gov/energy/pages/oregons_electric_power_mix.aspx
EIA. “Coal News and Markets” 3 Dec 2012 (8 Dec 2012) http://www.eia.gov/coal/news_markets/
Oregon Sierra Club, “Sierra Club’s Clean Energy Solutions Campaign in Oregon”. 25 Nov 2012 (9 Dec 2012) http://oregon.sierraclub.org/goals/energy.asp
Union of Concerned Scientists. “How Coal Works”. 15 Dec 2009 (7 Dec 2012)
Wood, Shelby. The Oregonian. “Solar jobs rising in Oregon”. 22 Jul 2008 (7 Dec 2012) http://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2008/07/solar_jobs_rising_in_oregon.html