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In southern Oregon: Can renewable energy replace lost timber?


Rene Ehrhardt

Five counties in southern Oregon are banding together to explore the possibility of supplementing the limping timber industry with renewable energy projects.

Next week, leaders from Coos, Curry, Douglas, Josephine and Lane counties will launch the Southern Oregon Clean Energy Alliance – the newest installment of Oregon Solutions groups.

Oregon Solutions is a program run through the governor’s office that tries to solve big, community-based problems by bringing public and private stakeholders together. For example, one of the groups is exploring ways to save the small timber town of Vernonia after a devastating 2007 flood destroyed much of the town’s infrastructure – including its schools. Big job.

This new group in southern Oregon has a big job too: growing sustainable jobs and revenues in counties whose economies used to run on timber sales.

Lauren Beeney, Oregon Solutions program coordinator, said local leaders are thinking maybe there are other natural resources besides timber that can boost these rural economies out of the doldrums. Preferably renewable ones.

“Part of what this group is planing on doing is building a strategic plan to use more of the natural resources because obviously, the timber industry was a big thing, and that is no longer generating as much income,” she said.

Beeney said leaders in southern Oregon saw communities in eastern Oregon generating their own income and their own power from wind: “And they said, ‘Let’s band together and see if we can get some wave energy, solar energy, geothermal to mitigate some of our costs.’”

First on their project list:

  • Biomass Boiler Assessment and Technical Assistance – to identify boiler heating systems considered to be “low hanging fruit” for conversion to biomass fuel and technical assistance/outreach to interested facility managers.
  • SOCEA Clean Energy Strategic Plan – to help market the region as a preferred location for energy project development, and the associated revenue potential, and to help guide joint action.
  • Energy Efficiency – to support and finance energy efficiency projects in order to realize cost savings, reduce the export of energy costs out of communities, and stimulate energy efficiency firms.
  • Advocacy –  to identify and advocat for common regional needs in relation to clean energy-related funding, programs, and legislation.

A signing ceremony is set for 2:30 p.m. Monday at the Curry County Fairgrounds in the Curry Showcase Building in Gold Beach.


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