May 23, 2017

In my hometown of Lakeview, Oregon, timber was the backbone of our local economy for many generations. But in the 1990s, major changes in forestry production shut down four of five sawmills, we lost hundreds of jobs. Then in 2008, the recession hit. This impacted my community quite a bit. It has taken a long time for us to bounce back, and we’ve still not fully recovered.

quote_-_Jim_Walls.jpgCurrently, our unemployment rate is 8.2% - that’s double the statewide average. Seventeen percent of our families live below poverty level. Our county would greatly benefit from innovative solutions to spur economic development, and it just so happens that one of the most promising solutions is right beneath our feet.

I’m talking about geothermal energy. Through proper investments and tax incentives, it has the potential to be one of the greatest job creators in our county.

There are two types of geothermal -- natural, which is water heated by the earth. There are many sites of this type our area. The second type is ground source, which uses heat from the earth. In Lakeview, Oregon, it’s 55 degrees under the ground year-round, five feet below the surface. This constant source of heat allows us to harness energy from under the ground, using horizontal pipes to heat indoor spaces to 55 degrees, then use a heat pump to boost to the temperatures desired. In summer, you simply turn the switch, and that takes the heat out of your residence or building and puts it back in the earth. Ground source geothermal can provide heating and cooling energy.

We’ve already seen the good that geothermal can do. Several of our schools and our local hospital are already running on geothermal, as well as many homes. We know it works, we know the money it can save, and we know the jobs it can create. It’s clean, cheap and sustainable.

Getting our local hospital up and running on geothermal energy has been a real game changer. How does it work? Geothermal hot water of over 200 degrees enters a hot water heat exchange and provides all the heat that the entire hospital needs. It’s really quite amazing. Our schools have also moved to geothermal -- building by building they were retrofitted to accept geothermally-heated water, an extensive project that created jobs right away, and set up our schools for long-term savings -- as much as $100,000 per year.

There are several known geothermal sites that haven’t been developed but that could produce as much as 30 megawatts of power -- enough to power about 18,000 homes. Geothermal is a type of renewable energy that’s not available everywhere but is plentiful here in Central Southern Oregon. It’s so plentiful, in fact, that Lakeview has even been referred to as “the Saudi Arabia of geothermal energy in the United States.”

But it doesn’t end at geothermal; our county has the ability to produce virtually every type of renewable energy that exists, apart from ocean wave, and we have. Drive to Lake County and you’ll find vast solar arrays, wind farms and geothermal sites. Currently solar is generating $70,000 in new taxes and will, in the next two years, generate an additional $420,000 new taxes in Lake County. But we still need more incentives to make geothermal viable. And if we can do that, we know it will create jobs and save our communities money. Sustainable Northwest has identified that geothermal and biomass could generate a minimum of 135 new jobs in Lake County.

All we need are some additional incentives to offset the costs of bringing these projects to life.  The community will is there, the cost savings and job creation numbers have been proven and, most exciting, the clean energy source is there -- right under our feet, just waiting to be harnessed.