Energy: Eastern Oregon co-op may contract to grow canola for city vehicles

Commissioner Randy Leonard's recent trip to Eastern Oregon to pitch the benefits of biodiesel may produce quick results - a contract with the members of the Pendleton Grain Growers farmers' cooperative to produce biodiesel for the city of Portland.

'This could be magic for us,' said Al Gosiak, the co-op president. 'We want to establish a biodiesel industry and Portland needs biodiesel.'

According to Gosiak, Pendelton area farmers already are growing a limited amount of canola, a grain that contains an oil that can be used in biodiesel. The farmers are prepared to grow more canola for the co-op to make into biodiesel if the city commits to buying it.

Leonard, the City Council's most outspoken champion of biodiesel, was surprised by the offer during his Oct. 19 and Oct. 20 trip.

'I thought I was going to have to sell them on the market we're creating for biodiesel in Portland, but they are already prepared to take advantage of it,' said Leonard.

At Leonard's direction, the Water Bureau, which he oversees, recently began running its diesel vehicles on 99 percent biodiesel. All other city diesel vehicles are already running on a 20 percent biodiesel mix. And, just last week, the city's Office of Sustainability, which oversees the garbage collection franchise program, renegotiated its contracts to require all haulers to use biodiesel in their vehicles.

The result is an immediate need for hundreds of thousands of gallons of biodiesel a year in the Portland area. On top of that, Leonard also has persuaded the council to require that all diesel sold in the city contain at least 5 percent biodiesel, beginning next June - a requirement that should produce a demand for millons of gallons of the alternative fuel a year.

'What we're trying to do is create a dependable market so that farmers will plant canola instead of potentially more profitable plants, so we can all wean ourselves off foreign oil sources,' said Ty Kovatch, Leonard's chief of staff.

Gosiak said that if contract negotiations go well, the co-op can begin delivering biodiesel to Portland by early 2007. The City Council will have to approve the agreement before it takes effect, however.

Once that happens, Leonard predicts the economic benefits will spread beyond the co-op's members. He also visited the Port of Morrow during his Eastern Oregon swing to talk about the shipping increases needed to transport the biodiesel to Portland.

Although the other council members support Leonard's initiatives, his enthusiasm for biodiesel also is a source of amusement for them, in part because he does not oversee any of the city's environmental bureaus.

When Leonard announced that he wanted to make biodiesel a top priority during the council's Oct. 23 budget retreat, the rest of the council chuckled.

But later that week, Commissioner Erik Sten, who is in charge of Portland Fire and Rescue, called Leonard to say the bureau needed to buy some new vehicles - and wanted to know which ones would run on biodiesel.

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