Editorial: Why is hydro not green?

Oregon lawmakers decided, way back in 2007, to require utilities in this state to meet tough renewable portfolio standards for the energy sold here. By 2025, they decided, a quarter of power sold in the state will have to come from renewable sources.

Not just any renewable sources qualify, mind you, just new ones. The 39 percent of the state’s power that was already coming from hydroelectric power cannot be counted in the mix. That exclusion was dumb then; it’s still dumb today.

Supporters of the 2007 measure excluded hydro intentionally, just as they excluded all renewable power sources that were in use before 1995. The idea behind the exclusion made sense in a way — they wanted to push for the development of new renewables and decided the best way to do that was to ignore the old ones.

They and then-Gov. Ted Kulongoski told Oregonians that all this would be good for Oregon. It would mark the beginning of a new “green” economy, in which good jobs could be had doing good for the planet. To the extent that the standard has lived up to what was promised for it, it has done so at tremendous cost. In fact, says state Rep. Bruce Hanna, R-Roseburg, the state has spent about $198 million on RPS-certified projects and created a whopping 187 permanent jobs.

So much for the green economy.

The problems don’t end there, however. The Umatilla Electric Cooperative is worried that meeting even the reduced RPS figure demanded of a supplier its size — 10 percent of energy from renewables, not including hydro — will require it to raise rates beyond what is reasonable.

It took its case to both the 2011 and 2013 Legislatures to no avail, and now is threatening to push a ballot measure that would require the state to consider existing hydro power in its calculations.

The co-op’s position is reasonable. It’s harder to get much greener than hydro.