What You Need to Know about Oregon’s push for Clean Energy Jobs

By Marie Bowers —

Since 2007 the Oregon Legislature has been trying to address climate issues by passing laws that mandated renewable energy and carbon reduction. All these bills aimed at climate change promised job creation. So how many jobs have all these bills created? No one seems to know. The only official state report documented fewer than 100.

In 2007, the Oregon Legislature passed the Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS)requiring Oregon utilities to produce at least 25% from renewable sources by 2025. (Technically, Oregon was already meeting that standard because a majority of Oregon’s electricity was coming from hydropower. However, the RPS bill, SB 838, excluded energy from hydropower dams that were built before 1995.) 

In news coverage, lawmakers touted SB 838 as a “jobs bill:’

“[The Oregon Renewable Energy Act] will encourage the growth of a new industry in Oregon providing new jobs in rural Oregon,” said Senator Jason Atkinson (R-Grants Pass), the bill’s co-sponsor. Upon its passage, Governor Ted Kulongoski hailed the Act as “the most significant environmental legislation … in more than 30 years that will stimulate billions of dollars in investment – creating hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs in both urban and rural Oregon.”

So, were “hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs” created? Section 25 of SB 838 is titled “Job Impact Study.” It required the Oregon Department of Energy (ODOE) to do a study on how many jobs were created within the first two years and then periodically after that. 

The Oregon Department of Energy’s (ODOE) website has a whole section dedicated to the RPS. The RPS compliance page has years of reports from utilities but none from ODOE. The mandated jobs reports are not there.

In response to a request from State Representative Shelly Boshart Davis, provided a copy of one report ODOE published in 2011. It is the one and only studyever ODOE ever produced on jobs. 

How many new jobs did ODOE report were created as a result of SB 838?Eighty-two. 82. That was the total number of jobs that could be qualified as RPS related jobs according to ODOE. Their biggest challenge, ODOE claimed, was the lack of a “existing renewable sector employment baseline” that limited their ability to gather data. Yet the SB 838 clearly defined what the renewable sector was and seemed to set the baseline. 

A broader look at green jobs in Oregon also presents challenges for the DOE because the term “green jobs” is a vague catch-all.  Green Energy Jobs, also known as Clean Energy Jobs, include: Wind, Solar and “Jobs helping consumers, institutions, and businesses reduce wasted energy, for example high-efficiency lighting installation, Energy Star appliance manufacturing, and HVAC services” according to Clean Energy Progress.

ODOE’s 2011 RPS jobs assessment referenced one study from 2010that said there were 59,000 green jobs in Oregon. The Renew Oregon websiteclaims Oregon has about 55,000 “clean energy jobs”today – more than 75% of them in urban areas. Is Oregon losing green jobs, is job growth stagnant or are green jobs growing? Despite climate change and carbon reduction legislation, there’s no clear evidence of job growth.

The ODOE study also claimed that there were multiple programs at Oregon’s universities, community colleges, unions and other businesses that offered training programs for those seeking employment in the renewable sector. One such program mentioned at Treasure Valley Community College, no longer exists. 

In 2009, the Oregon legislature tasked Oregon Workforce Investment Board with a developing a “Green Jobs Growth Plan.”This document was also difficult to locate; however, the archives of the state library had a copy. It was produced by Cylvia Hayes, fiancé of former Governor John Kitzhaber. It’s unclear how the report was used and what job creation resulted. 

ODOE’s RPS Jobs Assessment lists other programs and key legislation that claimed to promote renewables and green energy jobs in Oregon. However, since 2011 many of the programs and legislation have failed, sunset or never happened. 

  • House Bill 3633 (2010) “Requires Department of Land Conservation & Development to conduct a study on developing commercially viable marine renewable energy.” 

Lack of accountability in Oregon’s state agencies is apparent. Legislators come and go, but many agency staff in charge of implementing legislation remain the same. Only consistent legislative oversight can make sure legislative intent is met. 

In 2016, the Oregon Legislature felt that the current renewable portfolio standards were not aggressive enough. SB 1547 eliminated coalas an electricity source and amended the RPS standards. Now 50% of electricity has to be renewable by 2040. Again, Oregon is already meeting this standard if our hydropower dams qualified. In 2017, 76% of Oregon’s utility-scale net electricity generation came from conventional hydroelectric power plants and other renewable energy resources.

This 2016 legislation did not mention a job impact study. However, section 27 of SB 1547 requires a series of reports done by the Public Utilities Commission due between January 1, 2020 & December 31, 2021. These reports are to investigate impacts of RPS on the following: 

(a) Rates; 
(b) Greenhouse gas emissions; 
(c) Electrical system reliability and operations; 
(d) The allocation of risk between customers of electric companies and electric companies;
(e) The eligibility and timing of cost recovery for the generation of qualifying electricity; and
(f) The resource procurement process.

Currently the Oregon Legislature is debating HB 2020, so-called Cap and Trade legislation. Proponents are using the same talking points from 2007. We are being told thousands of “clean energy” jobs will be created. Yet we know from the 2011 ODOE report the state has no baseline or clear definition of green or clean energy jobs. At best, job creation is a pure guess by the proponents of the bill. 

In the past 12 years, Oregon has passed numerous new laws to reduce our carbon footprint, including a Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS). LCFS and the recent transportation investment bill have raised gas prices to the 4thhighest in the nation. Gas prices will continue to rise if the proposed Cap and Trade law passes. Legislators can’t seem to wait for the results of previous legislation they claimed would “save us.”  According to the 2016 RPS legislation they should have a very detailed study coming in 2020 to see if their actions are working or if they ever will work. 

For now, continuing down this “green jobs” path will continue to push businesses and residents who can’t bear Oregon’s high cost of energy out of state. Rural Oregonians will face the highest costs and see the least benefit of promised green jobs.

Marie Bowers is a fifth-generation Lane County farmer whose family has farmed in the Coburg area since 1865. She has been actively engaged in politics as long as she can remember.