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How Green it is!

Posted: Wednesday, Oct 15th, 2008

photo by Jon Stinnett The Cottage Grove City Council and Mayor Gary Williams with a sapling given the City in recognition of its newly gained status as a "Green Power Community."

City recognized for green power

Thanks to a growing commitment to renewable energy among local residents and businesses, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has recognized Cottage Grove as the nation’s 17th Green Power Community, representatives from Pacific Power and Emerald People’s Utility District announced at the Oct. 13 City Council meeting.

A campaign to spark local investment in clean energy, known as “Greening the Grove,” has succeeded in boosting community renewable energy use past the three percent benchmark required by the EPA for Green Power Community certification. Of the 17 such communities in the nation, eight are in Oregon.

“This is great news for the Cottage Grove community,” Mayor Gary Williams said. “To be among the leaders in supporting renewable energy is a strong endorsement of our community as a place to grow and grow sustainably.”

City Council members were presented with a special street sign and a commemorative sapling from the EPA to acknowledge the city’s accomplishment.

The “Greening the Grove” challenge, which began on March 13 and ended on Sept. 30, was sponsored by Pacific Power’s Blue Sky program, EPUD and the City. At the conclusion of the challenge, 6.1 percent of all Cottage Grove–area customers had chosen to participate to some degree, resulting in the purchase of 2.7 million kilowatt-hours of renewable energy, enough to supply electricity to more than 231 average homes.

According to City Manager Richard Meyers, the City is paying for 10 percent of Cottage Grove’s electrical load to come from renewable sources, at a cost of approximately $300 per month. Meyers said that it was important for the city to promote a green energy initiative that was not tied to a political agenda, which could divide the community along partisan lines and preclude widespread participation. The “Greening the Grove” challenge fit the bill, according to Meyers.

“We didn’t do this because of global warming, and we didn’t do this because of carbon footprints,” he said. “We did it because it’s the right thing to do.”

Meyers said that the community response to the campaign has been exemplary, with some individuals signing up for 100 percent of their power to come from renewable energy sources. The school district was also a noteworthy contributor, establishing their renewable power participation level at 25 percent.

Doris Johnston, Pacific Power’s Regional Community Manager, emphasized that eco-conscious individuals who are looking for a good way to invest in the environment should consider signing up for the program.

“Participating in this program is the most cost-effective way for individuals to make a difference in the environment,” she said.

Through Pacific Power’s Blue Sky program, Cottage Grove residents and businesses can purchase renewable energy in 100-kilowatt-hour blocks or can request that 100 percent of their monthly power use derive from a mix of renewable resources, including wind, biomass and solar. EPUD customers can sign up for 100 percent or 50 percent wind power, at an additional cost of less than a penny per kilowatt-hour. The utilities do not keep the extra money generated by this program, instead channeling the funds back into the renewable energy infrastructure.

The most cost-effective renewable energy for utilities to purchase depends on the particular geographic area, according to Pacific Power spokesman Tom Gauntt. Although the majority of new renewable energy in the region derives from wind power, wave generation and solar energy may become increasingly important in the years to come, Gauntt said.

Representatives from EPUD and Pacific Power have been active in the community in recent months to raise awareness of renewable energy and to encourage participation in the program. “Cottage Grove is a very close-knit community, and people really pulled together in this effort,” Johnston said. “There was tremendous energy at all the community events we attended.”

Rob Currier, Commercial/Industrial Analyst for EPUD, said that Cottage Grove residents’ support for renewable energy programs has increased by 42 percent, demonstrating a genuine commitment in the local community to sustainable energy.

“It’s been great for EPUD and Pacific Power to get out into the community and talk about an issue that people are really excited about,” he said.

Although the three percent goal has been achieved, Currier and Johnston stressed that there is still much room for growth and that they would like to see many more Cottage Grove residents and business owners sign up for the program. Currier explained that the law of supply and demand ensures that the utilities will continue to be able to provide all the renewable power that area customers require.

“If a demand is triggered that would encourage supply, then that forces utilities to buy and developers to build,” he said.

The amount of renewable energy currently purchased by Cottage Grove–area customers is roughly equal to the annual production of one high-capacity turbine at a commercial-scale wind farm and is enough to offset 2,345 tons of carbon emissions. This is equivalent to not driving more than 6.8 million miles or planting 539,517 trees.

The renewable energy purchased for the “Greening the Grove” challenge is above and beyond the amounts already supplied by EPUD and Pacific Power. Most of EPUD’s electricity comes from Bonneville Power Administration hydropower, with supplemental amounts supplied by the capturing and burning of greenhouse gases emitted by the Lane County Landfill, as well as wind power. Pacific Power’s Blue Sky program, named national 2007 Green Power Program of the Year by the EPA and the Department of Energy, supplies renewable energy to hundreds of businesses in Pacific Power’s service area.

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