Oregonians are unlikely to forget the extreme weather we experienced in 2021 — from record-breaking ice storms in February to record heat waves just a few months later. Not to mention, weather in 2021 came on top of the devastating wildfire season the previous summer.
In some areas of Oregon, it took weeks to repair power lines and restore electricity to homes and businesses after ice storms. In the wake of the 2020 Labor Day wildfires, the communities of Detroit and Adana have been without a local gas station for months.
Unfortunately, the effects of climate change are already there, and these extreme weather events are starting to feel like normal. As we continue to work towards reducing emissions, it is also time to adapt to the effects of climate change by building a more resilient energy future for Oregon’s communities.
Resilience is a term used to describe how our power systems can withstand the effects of emergencies that disrupt power delivery, and how quickly these systems can recover after an outage. In addition to severe weather affecting our energy systems, we also know that the “big earthquake” – the Cascadia subduction zone earthquake – will destroy parts of Oregon’s energy infrastructure, from electricity to petroleum fuel pipelines to natural gas pipelines, as well as roads and bridges . According to the Oregon Resilience Plan, Oregonians could be without fuel and energy for months in some areas.
State agencies, utilities, and communities are beginning to focus more on promoting energy resilience. Here at the Oregon Department of Energy, we have developed the Oregon Fuel Action Plan, which outlines the steps the agency will take to coordinate the acquisition and distribution of petroleum fuels to emergency and essential services after a disturbance, such as the Cascadia earthquake. Oregon communities and electrical utilities are investing in resilience projects, such as the Eugene Water & Electric Board that partnered with Howard Elementary School to install a solar energy and storage system that could help pump water from a well in an emergency.
“Microgrid” projects such as Howard Elementary can be designed to provide essential power to buildings and communities when the larger grid is down. For example, after a major earthquake, coastal communities in Oregon are likely to experience significant long-term blackouts, and roads inaccessible from other parts of the state will limit their supply of petroleum fuels such as diesel. A small storage and solar power project can supplement existing diesel generators in locations such as schools or hospitals to keep lights and power flowing for critical services and life-saving equipment.
Public agencies, tribes, utilities, and other community organizations in Oregon should consider investing in more energy resilience projects. Projects that combine local energy such as solar power with battery storage capacity not only support resilience at the community level, but also reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions, create jobs, boost local economies and enhance energy independence.
The good news? The Oregon Department of Energy has a new $50 million grant program to support the planning and development of renewable energy and resilience projects in Oregon communities—the agency is now accepting applications for the first round of grants totaling $12 million. Oregon residents can also access public funding for rooftop solar and storage systems through the Oregon Solar + Storage Rebate Program. From renewable-energy electric vehicle chargers to solar energy storage facilities as well as batteries to other micro-grid technologies, our agency is here to support Oregon communities in planning and building a stronger, more resilient foundation.
Janine Benner is the director of the Oregon Department of Energy.
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