Clean Energy Day: promoting local jobs and lower energy prices

More good jobs. Lower long-term energy bills. Support for local businesses. Clean air and water.

Those are the goals of Clean Energy Day, to be held at the Medford Commons on Sunday, May 4.

Yes, there will be food, live music and fun activities for all ages, including assembly of a giant sun made from artwork produced by hundreds of Rogue Valley residents of all ages.

But Clean Energy Day also has a practical purpose — to draw attention to ways our communities can benefit from greater use of cleaner energy and increased energy efficiency.

In 2011, the Rogue Valley Council of Governments joined together with local agencies, technical experts, and businesses to produce a 121-page report, called "Renewable Energy Assessment for Jackson and Josephine Counties."

It estimated that 60,000 homes in the area need retrofitting with better insulation, windows, and energy efficient lighting. Doing so would create thousands of jobs, and would save homeowners, landlords, and rental tenants an average of 30 percent on energy bills, freeing up millions of dollars per year for our local economy.

In addition, thousands of local businesses could make their buildings more energy efficient or use more efficient motors, pumps, or irrigation systems, again saving millions of dollars and providing local jobs.

By improving energy efficiency and increasing use of solar, wind, and other cleaner energy sources, the Rogue Valley could go from getting 30 percent of our energy from renewable sources to 60 percent, the report said.

Some local governments and businesses already are saving money through greater energy efficiency and use of cleaner sources such as solar power, but we need to take advantage of this opportunity much faster and on a much bigger scale.

Local agencies, businesses, and community groups need a Rogue Valley energy plan that answers questions like: 

  • What can we do to take full advantage of existing federal, state, and utility programs and push for other programs and policies we need?
  • Can we pool purchasing power to make the initial investment in cleaner energy and greater efficiency more affordable?
  • What incentives and standards are needed to ensure a level playing field for businesses that convert to cleaner energy and efficiency?

At the same time, Southern Oregonians are confronted with another question — what happens if we don't speed up our transition to cleaner energy and greater energy efficiency?

The alternative to a Rogue Valley clean energy plan is to continue to rely primarily on fossil fuels, such as coal and oil that emit carbon into the atmosphere and contribute to climate change.

The key economic sectors that provide local jobs are already being affected by wild swings in climate patterns. This winter, the Rogue Valley lost an estimated $11 million and 130 jobs because the Mt. Ashland Ski Area never opened. Last summer, the Rogue River rafting industry lost at least $1.5 million because of fire and smoke, which in turn meant additional losses in jobs and revenue for other businesses in the region. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the Britt Festivals both had to cancel performances because of hazardous smoke in the air.

In a study in 2008 called "Climate Change Preparation in the Rogue River Basin," scientists and the U.S. Forest Service found that, without prompt action, the Rogue Valley will, on average, see substantially hotter summers, more severe fires, and reduced air quality. What will be the impact on local jobs in the tourism, retirement, and health care industries if visitors and seniors no longer consider our area to have an inviting climate?

That study also found that reduced snowpack, earlier snowmelt, and warmer temperatures will mean water shortages in the summertime and increased insect infestations. What will that mean for jobs in forestry, farming, vineyards and ranches?

Rogue Climate, our group of young people that initiated Clean Energy Day, doesn't claim to have answers to all these questions. But we do believe that by working together to speed our transition to cleaner energy and greater energy efficiency, everyone in southern Oregon can benefit from an increase in good local jobs, reduced long-term energy prices, and protection of our rural quality of life.

Come and take part in Clean Energy Day on Sunday, May 4, from noon to 4 p.m. at the Medford Commons. If you want more information, visit RogueClimate.org.

Hannah Sohl is coordinator of Rogue Climate, a nonpartisan group of Rogue Valley residents committed to constructive steps to preserve and improve our local economy and quality of life.

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