Oregonians spent $12.1 billion on energy in 2020, a drop from the recent peak of $14.2 billion two years prior. This includes power and fuel for homes and businesses, industrial energy consumption, and petroleum products used for transportation.
Yet, the use of energy across the state of Oregon is evolving. Some new technologies are becoming more widespread, and many people are shifting the way they use energy. Today, our energy sources are more diverse and include a growing amount of solar and wind power and less electricity from coal.
How is the Energy Mix Changing in Oregon?
The resource mix for generating electricity in Oregon has shifted over the last decade and will continue evolving moving forward, according to data published by the Oregon Department of Energy.
Energy Mix in Oregon
However, Oregon has now ceased producing power using coal. Portland General Electric announced in 2020 that it was closing the Boardman Generating Station in Eastern Oregon 20 years ahead of schedule.
“Our customers are counting on us to deliver a clean energy future,” PGE President and CEO Maria Pope said. “PGE’s Boardman closure is a major step on our path to meeting Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals and transforming our system to reliably serve our customers with a cleaner, more sustainable energy mix.”
Although this power plant closed, Oregon does continue to import some electricity, and the majority of that power is generated from coal power plants. Therefore, Oregon continues to use electricity produced from coal but isn’t generating it within the state.
Oregon has numerous electric utility companies that service different parts of the state. PGE has the largest service area and serves much of the Portland area. However, Pacific Power and Eugene Water and Electric Board (EWEB) also service many communities.
Renewable Energy Use in Oregon
Our state ranks #5 for renewable energy generation according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, with 13.11 million megawatt hours (MWh) of renewable power. Texas leads the nation with 33.95 million megawatt hours, followed by Washington, California, and Iowa.
Currently, the majority of the renewable energy generated in Oregon comes from hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River. According to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council website, “Today there are 281 hydropower dams larger than one-tenth megawatt in size in the Columbia River Basin, and about 200 more dams built for other purposes, such as irrigation and flood control.”
Oregon is the second-highest hydropower-producing state, following Washington. Although hydroelectric dams produce low-cost clean energy, they do impact wildlife habitat. In fact, some dams are being removed in Oregon to restore salmon habitat.
The use of solar energy has increased dramatically across Oregon in the last decade due to technological advances and falling equipment prices. From 2012 to 2020, solar power generation increased from 6,400 MWh to over 1 million MWh. From Portland to Eugene, Roseburg, Grants Pass, and beyond, solar panels are reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and lower energy bills.
“You have utilities that are looking ahead … and planning for how they’re going to meet demand, and solar is going to be a big part of that,” said Oregon Department of Energy Director Janine Benner. “So I think the business case is definitely there.”
Many Oregon homeowners are installing solar panels to reduce their electricity bills and reliance on fossil fuels. There are now more solar loans and financing programs available to help offset the upfront cost of a solar investment. Oregon residents are eligible for the 30% federal tax credit and possibly state incentives that can significantly reduce the total cost of a solar energy system. Also, there are net metering programs across the state, so solar homeowners can get solar energy credits on their power bills.
In addition, community solar farms are growing in popularity for renters or homeowners with shaded properties. These programs will increase the use of renewable energy throughout Oregon, but homeowners don’t save as much money compared to an on-site solar energy system.
Smart Solar Energy specializes in installing solar panels in Oregon and Washington, and we use only the best solar energy equipment. For example, we install Silfab Elite, Hanwha Q Cells, and Panasonic Evervolt solar panels because they have excellent warranties and a proven track record.
The first large wind farm was installed in 2001 in Oregon, and wind turbines are becoming increasingly common across the state. As of 2021, there were 4,203 MW of wind energy capacity in Oregon. Of that, more than half of the electricity is exported, and most wind farms in Oregon are located near the Columbia River Gorge. However, some of the best wind energy resources are located in the Pacific Ocean, so offshore energy may become more widespread in the future. Currently, the majority of the wind energy capacity in Oregon is from large, industrial-scale onshore wind farms, not small residential ones.
However, some households do use wind energy to produce clean power, but it is only a viable option for a small percentage of Oregon homes. Unfortunately, wind turbines usually need at least one acre of land. It’s helpful to have room to raise and lower the turbine tower when needed, in additional to having enough room for wiring to support the wind turbine tower. Therefore, wind turbines aren’t an option for most urban or even suburban homes in Oregon.
The output of residential wind turbines varies widely by location, and windy areas are obviously preferable. Thus, proper wind turbine siting is essential to maximize wind power production.Obstructions, including buildings, hills, and trees, can reduce wind speeds, so it is best to locate turbines upwind from them. Also, unlike solar energy systems, wind turbines require regular maintenance and can be unsafe if not properly serviced.
Energy Consumption in Oregon
We rely on energy from a variety of different sources, and energy use is divided into three major categories: electricity, direct-use fuels, and transportation fuels. Direct-use fuels include natural gas and fuel oil for heating, cooking, industrial processes, and to power backup generators. Transportation fuels are for passenger and commercial vehicles and also include airplanes, boats, barges, and trains. In Oregon, 45.4% is for electricity, 26% for direct-use fuels, and 28.6% for transportation fuels.
From 1960 to 1999, total energy use in the state increased by 3.6% yearly. However, since 1999, energy consumption has decreased across Oregon despite an increase in population. Oregonians used to rely more heavily on fuel oil and wood for heating and have since switched over to electricity and natural gas. Now, energy-efficient heat pumps are growing in popularity.
However, there are still many opportunities to increase energy efficiency in Oregon homes and businesses. For example, using energy-saving HVAC equipment, appliances, and proper weatherization are all helpful strategies. Likewise, transitioning to cleaner sources of energy, such as solar power, reduces pollution and conserves resources.
Energy Use By County
Clackamas County, Oregon
The county seat is Oregon City, and the largest towns in the county are West Linn, Happy Valley, Milwaukie, Canby, and Oak Grove. About 14% of households are energy burdened, meaning they spend more than 6% of their income on energy costs.
The average household spends $1,177 on electricity and $627 annually on natural gas. About 43% of homes heat with electricity and 47% with natural gas.
Lane County, Oregon
The county seat is Eugene, and the largest cities in the county are Springfield, Elmira, Cottage Grove, and Florence, Oregon. About 29% of households are energy burdened.
The average Lane County household spends $1,193 on electricity bills and $627 on natural gas each year. Roughly 73% of homes are heated by electricity and just 18% with natural gas.
Linn County, Oregon
The county seat is Albany, and the largest towns in the county are Lebanon and Sweet Home. Roughly 26% of households are energy burdened.
The average annual cost per household for electricity and natural in Linn County is $1,529 and $627, and approximately 50% heat their homes with electricity and 37% with natural gas.
Marion County, Oregon
The county seat is Salem, and the largest cities in the county are Keizer, Woodburn, Hayesville, Four Corners, and Silverton, Oregon. Approximately 28% of households are energy burdened.
The average household pays $1,177 for electricity and $627 for natural gas annually. In Marion County, 51% heat their homes with electricity and 42% with natural gas.
Washington County, Oregon
The county seat of Washington County is Hillsboro, and the largest cities include Beaverton, Tigard, Aloha, Forest Grove, Sherwood, and Cornelius. About 16% of households are energy burdened.
The average home in the county spends $1,177 on electricity and $627 on natural gas each year. Approximately 44% heat with electricity and 52% heat with natural gas.
Climate Change & Air Pollution in Oregon
One of the reasons the energy mix in Oregon is changing is concern about climate change and the need to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate the climate crisis. In recent years, Oregon has experienced strong effects from climate change, including wildfires, flooding, landslides, and heat waves.
Whereas the fire season in Oregon used to only last a few months, it has become far longer in some years. Some of the counties that are most vulnerable to wildfires in Oregon are Marion, Lane, Josephine and Jackson. By contrast, the Willamette Valley, including Portland, Tigard, Beaverton, Hillsboro, Oregon City, Salem, Corvallis, Albany, and Eugene, is generally considered to have a lower fire risk.
Some cities across Oregon have a moderate wildfire risk. You can use the Oregon Wildfire Risk Explorer to determine the risk level for a given property. “The new map gives us granularity to explore the risk levels at neighborhood levels, at parcel levels, where prior to this we didn’t have the scientific backing to it,” said Jackson County Fire Chief Bob Horton. “We had hunches on where we thought the higher risk areas were.”
Public safety power shutoffs are often used in Oregon to help prevent wildfires when the risk is high, but Oregonians are left with no power. As a result, some Oregon homeowners are installing solar systems with batteries to have emergency power during blackouts.
Another concern with fossil fuel-fired power plants is that they create a lot of air pollution, which is harmful to human health. Sadly, the Medford-Grants Pass area in Southern Oregon ranked in the top five by the American Lung Association for the nation’s worst year-round particle pollution. Common sources of particle pollution include automobiles, power plants, fires, agriculture, and industrial emissions.
Therefore, installing a solar energy system and driving an electric vehicle charged with solar power are excellent ways to reduce your carbon footprint and gain greater energy independence. If you want to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions while dramatically lowering your electricity bill, contact Smart Solar Energy today to get started.