Since Oregon Trail Electric started in 1988, our primary source of energy to generate electricity has been hydroelectric power. That electricity is bought from the federally owned and operated Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), which provides one-third of the Northwest's electricity.
Hydroelectric power is one of the cleanest, carbon-free sources of electricity in the nation, far cleaner than fossil fuel generation. Along with using hydroelectric power, OTEC, in conjunction with programs and incentives offered by BPA, promotes energy efficiency as a resource.
Renewable Energy Education
As the only private, consumer-owned segment of America's electric utility industry, electric cooperatives have always responded to demands for safe, reliable and affordable electric power. Traditional forms of electricity generation have helped cooperatives meet these objectives. But electric cooperatives know their consumers have a growing interest in renewable energy and the goal of independence from foreign sources of energy through homegrown efforts.
Because most renewable energy is produced in rural areas, they also see renewable energy as an opportunity for significant local economic development, a perspective shared by the electric cooperative industry. The electric cooperative commitment to rural America and its relationship to renewable energy both started in the 1930s. In 1935, the Rural Electrification Administration was established. Two years later, a young electric cooperative industry gained access to preference hydropower through the Federal Power Act
New Sources of Renewable Power
Hydropower is now but one renewable resource in a growing portfolio of technologies being used by electric cooperatives.
A recent NRECA report, Cooperatives' Efforts in Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency, cites growth in wind power, biomass, solar and geothermal as part of an increasingly diverse cooperative generation mix. The report shows that 88 percent of all electric cooperatives offer renewable power and that 11 percent of the total electricity delivered to cooperative members nationwide comes from renewable sources.
The report found that 66 percent of electric cooperatives are looking beyond the sale of renewable power, building their own renewable energy programs or working with their power supplier.
Wind power leads all cooperative renewable energy efforts with 136 projects. Almost 80 electric cooperatives are involved in various ways in biomass projects, and 25 are involved in solar.
Efficiency and Conservation
Electric cooperatives have a history of helping members consumers control their energy costs through education, efficiency and conservation programs.
The NRECA report found that today, 92 percent of all electric cooperatives promote energy efficiency through member education.
Most of the nation's 900 local electric cooperatives offer energy audits that look for member energy waste, recommend energy-efficient building improvements and promote changes in energy use patterns.
Three out of four electric cooperatives conduct residential energy audits, often at minimal or no cost; 64 percent work with commercial and industrial businesses on energy management systems and approaches to reduce energy consumption; and in agricultural areas, 54 percent offer farm energy audits.
In addition, half of all cooperatives offer financial incentives to members who invest in efficiency measures, and 40 percent offer weatherization and conservation services.
Cooperatives Fuel Renewable Fuels and Rural Development
The growth in renewable electricity options and efficiency efforts is part of a broader cooperative renewable commitment. As far back as the late 1970s, electric cooperatives actively engaged in promoting the development of renewable fuels.
Today, cooperatives are working with communities, farmers and local businesses to develop renewable fuels produced locally from local resources. For electric cooperatives' communities, renewable fuel development means economic development, stronger economies and more jobs.
According to the NRECA report, electric cooperatives provide support to 122 ethanol plants and 38 bio-diesel plants now in operation, under construction or in the planning stage. The plants in operation or under construction represent production capacity of 3 billion gallons of ethanol and 121 million gallons of bio-diesel.
Elkhorn Valley Wind Farm
Sagebrush, cattle, and wind: a great combination of elements for a wind farm that successfully shares the land with ranching. Add in good access to high-voltage transmission lines and roads, along with supportive landowners, and the Elkhorn Valley Wind Farm is born. Elkhorn Valley provides up to 101 megawatts (MW) of affordable, pollution-free electricity to the Northwest. 101 MW is equal to the annual energy requirements of approximately 30,000 homes. In addition to clean wind power, the Project brings new jobs to the area. Horizon Wind Energy has installed 61 wind turbines over about 10,000 acres of open range leased from local landowners. The turbines, underground power lines, roads, and substation blend well with current land uses; the wind farm itself takes up only about 150 acres.
Located on a rural site approximately 6 miles east of the town of North Powder in Union County, Oregon, wind turbines sit on open ridge tops in the area around a pass known as Pyles Canyon, between the Grande Ronde Valley and the Baker County line. Strong NNW-SE winds accelerate as they pass over these open ridge tops and through the canyon.
OTEC believes renewable energy education is most effective when the learning process is “hands on.” As such, OTEC has made substantial investments in 5 local high schools. These investments, averaging about $12,000 each, include the installation of 1Kw Photovoltaic (PV) systems with online monitoring systems where students can actively learn about renewable energy.