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It's time to invest in 'smart' electrical grid

by WILLIAM D. KENNEDY For the Capital Press April 12, 2012

Klamath Falls is at the cross roads of many infrastructures, from the interstate highways and railways to the Bonneville Power electric transmission and several natural gas transmission lines. We are unique in our infrastructure assets.

Klamath Falls is also at a crossroads to some very important directions. We are struggling financially because of a loss in revenues, businesses have closed or moved and the attacks on our natural resource industry have taken a turn away from national security and resource certainty.

There is an interest in development of power from hydro, including pump-storage projects, as well as solar and geothermal. Oregon Institute of Technology is about to become the first college in the country to be energy self-sustaining. Our downtown has been hooked up to geothermal for many years. Solar arrays are sprouting to energize local business.

The OIT model contrasts with many other power proposals relying on our resources to produce power that is instead shipped onto the national power grid. The North Swan Lake pump storage proposal is the first of as many as eight locations in Klamath County that require hookup into the BPA grid, use of imported wind power from subsidized megawind farms and in turn sell power on the spot market at the California-Oregon border in Malin.

The basic business plan for a potential geothermal development by Klamath Water and Power Authority follows the same shortsighted direction: Produce power and transmit to some out of state, high-priced market.

Developing new power production is honorable. Selling the production at the end of long transmission lines is foolish. A better direction is to utilize power at the point of production.

Attracting business in need of hot water, natural gas and electricity to our basin rich in infrastructure and resources will truly create employment. Envision the use of hot water to process locally grown grain and potatoes and wood products, and envision steel product fabrication that uses the rail and highways in conjunction with dependable power. The information freeway infrastructure also relies on dependable power. The current fiber optic network that passes through Klamath Falls is another asset.

It is easy to be sucked into the model we have followed as a nation for the past 100 years. Keep building into the "stupid" grid. The option of creating a localized grid where power production is aligned with local demand is called the "smart" grid model. Instead of building 500 megawatt power plants that emit millions of tons of greenhouse gases and transmit power hundreds of miles away, imagine power production less than 10 megawatts powering irrigation infrastructure and local communities.

We may have hydrogen gas production that powers the city of Bonanza and geothermal power production that provides power from Olene to our community college. Our schools may be powered by a combination of solar arrays and hydropower.

In these examples, power use efficiency is high and transmission loss, which creates stray voltage, is eliminated.

Can we accept new power production and continue to have this wonderful place to live? Carefully. If we look at a larger perspective of what we have and how we can add value to our economy, we will create a long-range plan that fits our values. We recognize the responsible direction that OIT is taking in becoming self-supporting in power production and use.

Future power production in the Klamath Basin should address the current power demands we have right here. Excess power production can be marketed locally. Once again, we attract business that prefers what we produce. We move away from the "stupid" grid and create a truly smart grid system that is advocated but ignored.

With strong leadership at the county level we can advocate for a direction in power production that makes sense, creates true economic growth and takes Klamath Falls to a future we can be proud of.

William D. Kennedy ranches in Klamath County, Ore. His lands are designated as private wildlife habitat under Operation Stronghold, an international consortium of private landowners.


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