Major Oregon utilities are far ahead of a 2011 deadline to meet the state's mandated renewable energy goals.
In 2007, state legislators passed a renewable energy mandate that 25 percent of Oregon's energy had to come from wind, solar, geothermal, wave and other renewable sources by 2025.
The three largest utilities — Portland General Electric, PacifiCorp and Eugene Water and Electric Board — must meet a 5 percent goal by 2011.
They are already there.
The two investor-owned utilities, which provide almost 65 percent of Oregon's energy, are close to double the goal. PacifiCorp will have about 9.1 percent renewables by 2011 and PGE estimates 9.9 percent, said Bob Valdez, spokesperson for the Public Utilities Commission.
"The 5 percent standard was really too low for 2011," said Kip Pheil, senior policy analyst with the renewable energy division of the Oregon Department of Energy. "It could have just said 11 percent by 2011. But it is partly a political compromise. There was concern about driving up utility rates to pay for green energy."
Rates have gone up slightly, but it is hard to know exactly how much of that is attributable to renewables, Valdez said.
Renewable resources "will not result in higher rates for customers," according to a letter from the PUC to legislators Feb. 26.
"Rates have gone up because of renewables, but they would have gone up anyway," said Bob Jenks, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board, which represents residential utility customers. "Requiring (utilities) to do renewables means rates goes up with investment in wind plants rather than coal plants."
Even though costs for wind power plants are higher than fossil fuel plants in the short-term, wind power is cheaper in the long run because there are no costs for purchasing fuel in the future.
"As with any new resource we bring online there is an impact on our customers," said Brianne Hyder, spokesperson for PGE. "The impact to our customers' bills is a 0.8 percent increase from (wind plant) Biglow."
The first phase of the Biglow Canyon wind farm in Sherman County produces 125 megawatts.
Oregon's renewable energy mandate means that about 1,500 average megawatts of renewable energy are needed by 2025. That would power roughly 1.125 million households.
Most investments so far have been in wind power, said Katie Kalinowski, a policy associate with the Renewable Northwest Project.
"I think there will be more diversification by 2025 mostly because the cost of other renewables will come down more," she said.
PacifiCorp expects to see solar investments in the future, said Mark Tallman, vice president of renewable resource acquisition for PacifiCorp.
"We are already starting to see a convergence of wind costs and solar costs because solar costs are getting cheaper," Tallman said. "The flip side of that is that a lot of solar projects we are seeing now are smaller projects but wind has evolved to a true utility scale. So there is a disparity in terms of scale."
The federal stimulus package includes an extension of the production tax credit, which will likely help utilities meet their obligations under states' renewable energy mandates.
"Our goal is to get cost-effective resources," Tallman said. "These tax credits are a big piece of that."
Supporters of Oregon's renewable portfolio standard see the utilities progress as proof the government mandate will help the economy, the environment and energy security in the long run. They want even more renewable energy laws passed this session.
"We're seeing the naysayers who think we can't transition to a clean energy economy proven wrong," said Jake Weigler of RePower Oregon 2009, a campaign to push renewables and global warming legislation. "Oregon can, should and must adopt a comprehensive global warming package this legislative session to capitalize on our growing renewable energy sector and create a clear path to that clean energy economy."