Lakeview, Oregon, shows a bright future for clean energy.
After taking a rest day in Bend, Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) volunteer Brian Ettling traveled to Lakeview on Wednesday, where he met up with Sherrill Rinehart, leader of CCL’s Southern Oregon chapter. They first met with Jim Walls, Executive Director of Lake County Resources Initiative since 2002. Jim has been a visionary leader in bringing clean energy to Lake County. Jim gave this TEDx talk at Oregon State University in 2012:
Jim gave Sherrill and Brian a tour of Lake County’s renewable energy projects, including all of the working solar panels and those under construction, the geothermal facilities, and even the town’s natural geyser that sits on top of all of the geothermal energy for Lakeview’s schools and hospital.
Lake County becoming a leader in renewable energy
In August 2009, Lake County completed its Strategic Plan to become Oregon’s Most Renewable Energy County. The strategy outlined a goal of implementing biomass, geothermal, solar, and small wind they could become a net exporter of renewable energy. Lake County is 78% public land, 8,500 square miles and less than 7,500 population. Since Lake County has less that 1 person/square mile, the U.S. government classifies it not just as rural but frontier. So, the county leader called their renewable energy initiative “Lake County, The New Energy Frontier”.
Lake County’s renewable energy initiative was also featured in the 2012 documentary series “This American Land”
According to Jim, this is the current progress with clean energy in Lake County:
- 15 MW (megawatt) of industrial solar has been installed, another 60+ MW to be installed in next 2 years with 111 MW on the books in permit approval process for Lake County Planning.
- 2.5 MW of geothermal energy installed and another two sites have been identified with 30 MW each potential
- Geothermal heating was installed in Lakeview schools and hospital. The heating of the school and hospital is now completely provided by geothermal energy. This extensive project that created jobs right away, and set up their schools for long-term savings, as much as $100,000 per year.
- In the next couple of years Lake County plans on installing 3MW of community solar for schools, hospital and low income assisted housing. This should make the county’s schools and hospital net-zero-energy facilities.
- Lake County has a 400-bed minimum security prison facility that working with the county to have both solar and wind energy installed.
Sherrill and Brian’s heads were swimming with all of the renewable energy projects happening in Lake County. The county believes it is a net exporter of renewable energy since 2009. However, Jim thinks the county still needs an outside expert to confirm it. All of the clean energy is sold to California. Jim wrote in a blog for Renew Oregon in May 2017 that “Currently solar is generating $70,000 in new taxes and will, in the next two years, generate an additional $420,000 new taxes in Lake County.”
Jim mentioned to us that the new tax revenue from solar enabled the county to hire new staff for the Lakeview hospital and boosting other job growth for the local economy. Thus, solar, geothermal and even biofuels are a great boost for Lake County, but not wind energy. “It is just too windy here,” says Jim.
Jim likes to say, “I am not a gambler, so who am I to go against 97% of climate scientists are telling us that climate change is real and we need to do something about it. I believe we should leave the planet stronger than we found it, especially for my 14 grandchildren.”
Jim also introduced Sherrill and Brian to the Lakeview City Manager and two Lake County Commissioners. All of them seemed very committed to Lake County’s bold clean energy actions.
Lakeview residents express climate concerns
That evening, Jim, Sherrill and Brian were the speakers at the Lake County Senior Center in Lakeview to hear how the local residents thought about climate change and promote solutions. The Lakeview residents responded that recent winters have been milder and unseasonably warm. The forests have been so dry during recent droughts it was hard to track the deer.
They stated that they no longer have a lot of snow in winter. The some of the local lakes have receded and even gone dry. The extremes in winter are different: hotter summers, more intense fire season, and heavier snowfall in between the periods of no snow. Some in the audience noticed that ticks in the summer are moving to higher elevations.
Two audience members disagreed about climate change causing more intense forest fires. They thought poor forest management might be a bigger factor. However, the agreement seemed to be that climate change plays a role in the more intense recent fire seasons. A few in the audience still wondered if global warming was just a natural cycle. One person argued that the urban heat island effect in cities had a bigger effect than climate change.
15 people came to this event to chat about climate change. Brian shared his story about seeing climate change as a park ranger. He explained about CCL’s carbon fee and dividend as a great solution to reduce harmful carbon pollution causing climate change. He encouraged members of the audience to get involved with CCL. In addition, Brian asked them to sign postcards asking Rep. Greg Walden to do more in Congress to act on climate change. Five people did sign the postcards.
Lake County’s total commitment to clean energy is an inspiring story. Citizens’ Climate Lobby hopes to keep in good contact with Lakeview residents.