Response to Tidings Editorial about a Solar Farm: Climate Change Is the Issue! Denial/Inaction Are Not Options

Ashland’s Renewable Energy Project

It is evident from the Tiding’s ‘Stop the Ashland Solar Farm’ editorial (7/26) that some clarification of the City’s work with its 10×20 renewable energy ordinance might be useful.  The ordinance states that “Ashland shall begin to produce 10% of its electricity from local renewable sources by 2020”.  After this was adopted last summer, City staff has been at work to determine the most reasonable way to achieve its goal.   None of this is lost on the City’s twin process, CEAP, calling for the steady decrease in our use of non-renewable fuels.

Per the July 17 Council study session, the staff is examining options for implementing 10×20 from a menu of approaches.   It is estimated that our watershed hydropower plant can be upgraded to meaningfully contribute toward that 10%.  It is also known that wind systems located beyond the summit of Mt. Ashland can likely contribute to this goal.  Due to regulatory and practical engineering requirements though, the 10×20 time frame does not encourage wind and hydro work at this time.

However, solar energy is viable, and it clearly appears to be a way to fulfill the ordinance.   Various locations for a large system are under consideration.  The City’s unused  Imperatrice property across I5 ranks high among choices because we already own it.  The City staff has completed some of the professional groundwork necessary to determine its viability.   Financially, such a system appears to ‘pencil out’.

How is a large (~ 10 Mw) renewable energy system financed?  In one method at least, no taxes whatsoever are involved.  A private third party which is eligible for the tax incentives submits a proposal to build the system and to sell us the power under contract to the City.   The City would accept or reject any such proposal based on its merits.  What we look at is the price per kilowatt hour of the electricity it can produce.  We pay for the system through our power bill, Kwh by Kwh.

When the City offers the request-for-proposals, and proposals are collected, the community will help the Council decide which proposal if any to accept.  Only a contract which is clearly in our interest will make it through that gauntlet.

Good estimates of the impact of this ‘solar 10%’ on our power bills can be made now.  Residents and businesses might see an average monthly increase of between $2 and $7, and then only during the initial years of the project.  The pricing due to the solar portion is essentially fixed over the 25 year life of the system, while Ashland’s standard portion will increase every 2-3 years.  After about 8 years, citizens can expect their overall rates to be lower than they would be without the project.   In addition, the Bonneville contract clause causing the billing of displaced energy will likely end or see modification or perhaps never even be invoked.

This project does not ‘replace renewables with renewables’.  The Bonneville power we displace here due to 10×20 can instead be sold on the NW grid by Bonneville.  Ashland’s renewable energy will also be added into that grid, but just locally.  While Bonneville hydropower is very clean, once it is placed on that grid it mixes with everything else on the grid, almost 50% of which comes from non-renewable gas & coal & nuclear plants.   In effect then, Ashland can reduce, by the amount of energy we produce, that same amount of coal/gas/nuclear power currently used across the NW grid, by Bonneville selling its clean energy elsewhere.

Understanding the above allows us to better appreciate all of what 10×20 represents.  It is an Ashland-based action designed to do something, to participate in the work that must be done to actually affect climate change dynamics.

Lastly, in understanding the July 26 editorial’s opposition voice to a 10×20 project on the Imperatrice property, citizens should know that several local groups or entities have an interest in that property and some have lobbied hard for its use.

The good news is that these interests are not really competing. The sum of public comments in city meetings and common sense  indicates that Imperatrice can readily accommodate all of these interests, sharing this valuable resource cooperatively.

Dr. Tom Marvin

Prof. Emeritus, Physics

Southern Oregon Universtiy


Prof. Marvin’s research area is in nuclear and particle physics but also held considerable interest in the emerging energy transitions.  He taught a popular course in the subject, pioneered solar energy in Ashland, and continues to experiment with it in retirement.  He understands solar energy to be a vital link in the evolution of technology that can enable a permanently habitable world for future generations.