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Energys future needs a push, not a shove

Legislature makes a bold statement about developing renewable energy sources

As Oregon moves to become a national leader in alternative energy, state and local policymakers must remember that effective leadership requires collaboration - not coercion.

The latest news from Salem and Portland demonstrates that Oregon is making up for lost time in the area of alternative fuels. The Oregon House last week passed landmark legislation that will push Oregon ahead of other states in encouraging the development of renewable energy sources.

Meanwhile, the city of Portland is continuing to use a combination of incentives and mandates to increase the use of ethanol and biodiesel within city limits.

Turn to our Sustainable Life section today on pages C10 and C11 to see several local examples of efforts to head in alternative directions.

The approach taken by state lawmakers in drafting and amending the alternative-energy legislation - Senate Bill 838 - can only be described as highly collaborative. But we continue to believe that Portland, in contrast, would be wiser to encourage, not mandate, the use of ethanol and biodiesel.

State standards well designed

SB 838, which has cleared both legislative chambers and awaits the governor's signature, will vault Oregon ahead of most of the other 22 states that have adopted similar laws. The bill requires that Oregon's largest utilities generate 25 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2025.

By aiming high - the 25 percent standard is exceeded only by California - Oregon signals that it is serious about combating global warming and moving away from carbon-intensive fuels.

At the same time, Oregon will help to greatly expand and distinguish the state economy by encouraging energy innovation and by refurbishing its image as an environmental leader.

Those outcomes are of utmost importance in a world where the issue of climate change is rapidly becoming an everyday concern and more and more business decisions are made with sustainability in mind.

The legislative process that led to approval of the so-called Renewable Portfolio Standards also is reason to cheer.

The state's two biggest utilities - Portland General Electric and PacifiCorp - supported the legislation, as did a wide spectrum of consumer groups.

The product, we believe, is ambitious but still fair both to utilities and ratepayers.

Local mandates are problematic

It is pollution from automobiles and trucks, however, that Randy Leonard and his fellow members of the Portland City Council are trying to reduce. They are requiring that by Aug. 15 every gas station in town mix ethanol with its gasoline and that all diesel sold in Portland contain biodiesel.

In many ways, Leonard, who has become the council's leading alternative-energy advocate, has tried to collaborate. He's working with Eastern Oregon farmers to ensure they have a role in producing alternative fuels, and he has led by example by pushing the city's fleet to switch to biodiesel.

But the city's new laws go beyond cooperative tactics and force choices on businesses and consumers.

Some people may not want to use biodiesel or ethanol, or they may balk at paying potentially higher prices for these alternatives. The result could be more driving - and more pollution - as motorists choose to gas up at suburban locations. That's why it's always tricky to pass mandates on a city-by-city basis - people have choices.

A better local approach, as Oregon legislators craft additional energy and sustainability policies, is to encourage the marketplace, provide incentives and inspire people to change their habits.