Current Oregon law requires that all public building construction and reconstruction projects include solar energy technologies when their total contract price exceeds one million dollars. The law requires that one and one half percent of the entire construction cost for new building must include solar electric, solar thermal or passive solar technologies. It also applies to building renovations that exceed one million dollars and fifty percent of the total building value. The solar requirement can be transferred and added to another building in the event that the contractor determines that solar technologies are not feasible for a specific building.
I voted against the enactment of the law in 2007 for two reasons. First, I believe that construction contract decisions should be based on free market cost-to-benefit analysis rather than political mandates. Second, the most cost effective form of renewable energy should be used if our state government is going to force the inclusion of renewable energy technology.
A salient example of the second point is the application of the solar technology requirement to a reconstruction project for the hospital in Lakeview. Geothermal energy was piped into the building from an existing resource to supply virtually all the HVAC system. Yet Oregon law absurdly required the contractors to spend more than a quarter of a million dollars on solar technologies for the building. This is not an isolated occurrence in our area. Five of the seven known major geothermal resource areas in Oregon are located in Klamath, Lake and southern Deschutes counties.
I introduced a bill in the 2011 Legislative Assembly that would have allowed virtually any feasible source of renewable energy to be substituted for the solar requirement. This would have allowed the building contractors to at least use the most cost efficient form of renewable energy for the specific building. That bill passed the Senate 28 to 1 but later died in a House committee when time ran out on that session.
This year I introduced SB 1533 in the same form as the bill that passed the Senate in 2011. The relevant Democrat House committee chairman asked that we amend the bill to include only solar and geothermal technologies to better address the concerns of Oregon’s solar industries. Our bipartisan amendment was successful. The bill as amended passed through the Senate 30-0. The bill passed out of the House committee unanimously after a last minute flurry of activity that could have sidelined its passage once again. SB 1533 was subsequently passed in the House 58-2. It has been sent to Governor Kitzhaber for his signature.
With the Governor’s signature, SB 1533 will allow our area to utilize its geothermal resources to satisfy the existing renewable energy requirement for public building construction and renovation.