Oregon Rural Action Attempts to Bring Energy Equity to Rural Oregon

ORA partners with local utility co-op to create Energy Equity with Solar

“We need mechanisms that encourage utilities to engage in, not fundamental research or basic science, but the kinds of later-stage, applied research projects and demonstration projects that can accelerate the up-tick of novel technologies.” –Jesse Jenkins MIT Researcher and Energy Consultant (and guiding principle of ORA’s work with Oregon Trail Electric Co-Op)

Three years ago, Oregon Rural Action was invited to brief Oregon Trail Electric Co-Op on the changes that utilities are going to experience as the price of solar panels plummets and battery storage continues to improve. The utility was eager to learn more.

Since then, ORA has cultivated a relationship with the co-op. This relationship, along with community partners like the local housing authority and other housing interests, may create favorable conditions to build an affordable-housing community solar project. The project will include an array or series of arrays that would generate power for the local community.

solar array
Solar arrays generate clean energy for their communities.

The co-op jumped at the opportunity to use the project as a test-bed for smart-meter technology. ORA met with the utility’s engineering team about capture and storage, new digital technology for metering, controlling and evaluating power-flow, and servicing a new class of power producers.

Oregon Trail Electric’s new general manager has expressed interest in continuing the partnership, as well as moving the utility as a whole in a new direction. As the project continued to evolve, ORA tapped the Oregon Clean Power Cooperative, an organization that works with investors to provide financing for community power projects around Oregon, to help develop a business model proposal. The key to the partnership revolves around developing a viable business model that will potentially change the whole relationship between the utility and its customers. They hope it may one day serve as a model for other communities coming to terms with the rapidly-changing energy landscape.