A directive from Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s office has instructed all state agencies, including universities, to switch to 100 percent renewable energy use by 2010, to make Oregon the first 100 percent sustainable-powered state government in the nation.
ASPSU President Courtney Morse said the news was a pleasant surprise to Portland State University’s new student government. “It was actually our campaign goal to switch PSU to using 25 percent renewable energy by 2010. When we heard about the governor’s directive we were like, ‘Sweet!'”
ASPSU will release a report in the fall detailing how PSU consumes its energy and what utilities supply the energy. The student government will also hold various events, like a solar-powered rock concert, to publicize the cause.
“All of our interns are going to be working on this campaign,” Morse said.
Until very recently all of PSU’s electricity came from PGE, said Dresden Skees-Gregory, the university’s sustainability coordinator. “But starting this month about half of our energy – I mean, the actual electrons – are going to be coming from a California company called Sempra,” Skees-Gregory said.
PSU will save 3 percent on its electric bill this way, but will not fulfill the sustainability directive. To do that, the university is creating a multi-pronged plan including the purchase of more renewable energy, investment in alternative energy research, and the on-campus generation of renewable energy.
Currently PSU owns one solar panel, a one-kilowatt student-built system that typically operates on the rooftop of Science Building 2. In September, the university will receive funding from the U.S. Department of Energy and start construction on a new 20-kilowatt system to be placed on Cramer Hall. Besides providing renewable energy, this system will use different photovoltaic arrays and can be used for a variety of education and research purposes, according to chemistry Professor Carl Wamser.
Skees-Gregory said the university administration also plans to place a small wind turbine on campus. “It’s not required that we generate energy, but we’ll be looking to do so,” she said.
PSU uses approximately 40 million kilowatt hours of energy per year, with the electric bill costing more than $2.5 million annually, according to a 2003 report from the PSU Facilities and Planning office. The university also consumes a yearly 900,000 therms of natural gas. Together, that is enough to power 3,500 average homes and heat 1,250 homes.
Morse said that PGE, Portland’s energy supplier, currently gets a mere 1 percent of its energy from renewable sources, though Oregon has ample natural wind power and more solar penetration than the world’s two biggest producers and consumers of solar energy – Germany and Japan.
According to 2005 statistics from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, PGE ranks first in the nation for sales of renewable power.
Besides wind and solar generators, other sources of renewable energy include ocean wave, biomass (energy sourced by burning plant matter) and geothermal power (using heat from the earth’s core to drive turbines).
There is some question as to whether or not PGE will be able to supply enough renewable energy to be PSU’s main supplier in 2010. In a recent meeting, PGE “indicated to us that they didn’t have the capacity to provide that service,” said Robyn Pierce, interim director of Facilities. “But I think PGE is moving in the direction to have that level of renewable energy.”
According to PGE’s web site, in 2005, 9 percent of its customers’ energy came from gas, 25 percent from coal, 8 percent from hydroelectricity generated by PGE, 12 percent from hydroelectric contracts and 43 percent from market purchases.