Homegrown power


We were, we suspect, as surprised as most of our readers when we realized, quite suddenly, that Northeastern Oregon is something of a leader in the renewable energy movement.

As evidence we submit the front page of this newspaper's Nov. 29 issue.

Among the stories on that page there are these two:

n One, by Herald reporter Mike Ferguson, details Behlen Mfg.'s drilling of a geothermal well at the company's livestock equipment factory in Baker City. The well will tap naturally heated groundwater, and a device patented by a Chinese company will use that warm water to heat and to cool portions of the factory.

n One, from the WesCom News Service, about construction starting on a plant that will burn wood chips (from logging slash and other sources) and pipe the heat into Enterprise High School. The plant, the first built at a public school in Oregon, is scheduled to start operating when the 2008-09 school year starts next fall.

A third story, which we published earlier this year, chronicled the assembling of Union County's first wind farm. That network of soaring towers is supposed to start spitting out kilowatts within a couple months.

To sum: Three counties, three projects, three different sources of energy, each one renewable and not powered by a fossil fuel.

We hope these three efforts are merely the start of a trend. At least one other related project is being planned: A hydroelectric plant at Mason Dam southwest of Baker City.

It's satisfying to see that even relatively remote regions such as ours needn't rely solely on faraway sources to satiate our appetite for energy.

The current and proposed projects make use of forces that heretofore have mainly gone to waste: the wind gusts that buffet the sagelands near North Powder; the bits of wood we used to leave in the forest, increasing the risk of wildfires; the warmth of underground water; the power of the Powder River.

If more places reined in their homegrown energy sources we wouldn't need to consume so much of the fossil fuels that are expensive, in some cases hard to extract without degrading the environment, and that, when burned, release by-products that contribute to global climate change.

We hope, too, that lawmakers will strive to ensure that tax breaks and other incentives, which benefited both the Behlen and Enterprise School projects, are available to companies, government agencies and even households who want to invest in the technology.

So far in Northeastern Oregon, we've barely begun to tap the potential.

After all, the sun, despite the recent, mainly gray interlude, shines pretty reliably around here. Yet comparatively few people are taking advantage of the sun's rays.

And the sun, unlike its minuscule satellite on which we sit, has energy to spare.

The Baker City Herald
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