Time to Take Action
Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.

Senator Doug Whitsett
R- Klamath Falls, District 28

Phone: 503-986-1728    900 Court St. NE, S-303, Salem, Oregon 97301
Email: sen.dougwhitsett@state.or.us
Website: http://www.leg.state.or.us/whitsett
State Seal
E-Newsletter  4/25/14

Klamath Falls - Oregon Tech's Renewable Energy


The Oregon Legislature designated Oregon Tech to be Oregon’s Renewable Energy Center in 2001. In 2005 Oregon Tech introduced the first Bachelor of Sciences degree in Renewable Energy Engineering in North America. It is also the first university to offer a Master’s Degree in Renewable Energy Engineering. The University has been the national leader in renewable energy technology for more than a decade.

Common sense, and conventional wisdom, suggest that Oregon Tech’s plan to become the first, and only, “energy-independent university campus”, would receive overwhelming support from the Oregon Legislature. That did not immediately happen.

It turns out, the solar and utility industries are somewhat provincial, when it comes to sharing in the generation of electricity. Their paid lobby advocates effectively use whatever means are at their disposal to protect their turf in the Oregon Capitol.

A net-meter is a device that measures the flow of electricity both to and from a private generator and computes the net difference. When the consumer’s generator produces more electricity than the consumer uses the utility must pay for the excess electricity generated that flows through the net-meter to the utility’s lines.

Investor owned utilities (IOU’s) are companies that are owned by private investors like Portland General Electric and Pacific Power. The IOU’s have generally opposed the expansion of net-metering of electricity generated by individual families and businesses. These regulated monopoly utilities appear to resist the creation of any meaningful competition in the generation of electricity. Further, from their perspective, any entity that is generating its own power is a customer that is lost to their monopoly. 

It is common knowledge that Oregon’s solar photovoltaic industry is not financially viable without government subsidies and preferential treatment. Solar photovoltaic generation is inefficient, not least because the sun only shines about 12 hours per day, all days are not sunny and the sun does not always shine directly on the panel. The average photovoltaic panel is estimated to produce only about 17 percent of its listed generation capacity.

For example, the solar “feed in tariff” is a form of net-metering that often require utilities to pay three or four times the local retail rate for excess power generated by privately owned solar panels. This “tariff”, or artificially enhanced payment, provides the cash flow for the owner to pay for the cost and installation of the solar panels. Those increased utility costs, that are created by the government mandated “tariff”, are then passed on to the utility’s other customers in the form of higher rates.

Further, Oregon law requires that 1 1/2 percent of the construction or remodeling costs of most Oregon public buildings costing more than a million dollars must be spent on renewable energy. That government mandate originally gave that exclusive advantage to renewable solar energy. The law was amended to include other renewable energy, such as geothermal, by a bill that I wrote and chief sponsored in an earlier legislative session.

Both the solar and investor owned utility legislative lobbies are strong, well-funded and effective. They have been efficient and successful in their support of laws that create financial advantages for their industries. Once in place, they work zealously to protect those monetary benefits.

Overcoming the influence of those strong lobby advocates in our efforts to help Oregon Tech create an energy-independent campus was frustrating and difficult work at best. It required two years of legislative work, to amend the laws just to include geothermal generation, on an equal footing, with the other renewables such as wind and solar. It took three years to amend the statutes, to allow geothermal generation, to be net-metered.

The fact of the matter is that our third attempt to allow geothermal generation to be net-metered was going absolutely nowhere as a stand-alone measure during the 2013 legislative session. We thank Governor Kitzhaber, for allowing our net-metering provision to be amended into another bill that had his support and was introduced to create a fuel tax exemption for biodiesel produced from cooking oil.

The net metering provision was finally adopted by the Legislature as part of that bill, and signed into law by the Governor. The only pathway that we found to get geothermal net-metering past the strong lobby opposition was through that amendment to the biodiesel fuel-tax exemption that was widely supported by the environmental community.

However, our work was still not entirely done. Current law only allows two-megawatts of generation to be net-metered at any single location. Our efforts to further amend the law, to create an exception to allow Oregon Tech to net-meter all four megawatts of its generation capacity, met a stone wall by lobby interests.

Fortunately, current law also provides the Oregon Public Utility Commission the discretion to issue a “public benefit waiver”, to allow more than two-megawatts to be net- metered at a single location. The problem was that the Commission had never before issued such a waiver.

We researched the issues related to the waiver over several months. We met with the Public Utility Commission’s staff and worked with President Maples and his staff, the Governor’s office and Pacific Power to encourage the Commission to grant the waiver. Against all odds, the Public Utility Commissioners were persuaded to unanimously issue the “one-of-a- kind” four-megawatt waiver for the University.

Oregon Tech can now generate all of its own power, and sell all of its excess power at competitive rates. The University’s ability to net-meter all of its excess generation capacity will save millions of taxpayer and student tuition dollars, into the foreseeable future.

The Energy Trust of Oregon presented Dr. Maples with a check for $1.5 million to help pay for the geothermal generation facility. The Trust’s funding comes from the 3 percent public purpose charge that is added as a monthly fee on all IOU customer bills. The charge is mandated to be used to enhance energy efficiency and to support the development of renewable energy. The fact is that all Pacific Power ratepayers helped to pay for the Trust’s gift to Oregon Tech.

 The word “tenacious” hardly describes Oregon Tech President Chris Maples’ resolve to make Oregon Tech “energy self-sufficient”. A more appropriate depiction might be that of a bulldog “chewing on a bone”. Gail and I have huge respect for our University President. More than any other person or entity, Dr. Chris Maples’ leadership, his tenacity, and his absolute refusal to take no for an answer, resulted in the outcomes that allowed Oregon Tech to achieved his goal of energy independence!

Please remember, if we do not stand up for rural Oregon no one will.

Best Regards,





In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, any copyrighted material herein is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

Home Contact


              Page Updated: Friday April 25, 2014 10:11 PM  Pacific

             Copyright © klamathbasincrisis.org, 2001 - 2014, All Rights Reserved