Last week the Oregon Senate confirmed the appointment of Letha Tawney to fill the vacant seat on the board of the Oregon Public Utilities Commission (PUC). Tawney will be filling the seat left by former Commission Chair Lisa Hardie, who left in April, less than halfway through her term.
Tawney’s appointment is a strong one for proponents of renewable energy in Oregon. Tawney served as both the Director of Utility Innovation and Polsky Chair for Renewable Energy at the World Resources Institute (WRI). WRI’s Polsky Chair is the institute’s leading position for renewable energy work, focused on expanding renewable availability and developing the electricity sector of the future.
In a post on her Linkedin profile, Tawney expressed her excitement, saying:
I am deeply honored to been confirmed by the Oregon Senate today to serve on the Oregon Public Utilities Comission. I am so proud of the deep partnerships that I’ve built in the electricity sector while I’ve been with World Resources Institute. It’s been pure joy to innovate with the most forward-looking people and companies in the electricity sector & concretely reduce emissions. I’m thrilled to be asked to serve Oregon as a regulator and play a new role in the transition to affordable clean energy.
What makes this appointment particularly interesting is the connection between renewable energy and big business in Oregon. Tawney’s experience at WRI centered around working with lawmakers, utilities and businesses to ease renewable energy purchases by large corporations. Getting such entities on board can be help to drive future renewable initiatives within a given state.
This is all the more important in Oregon, which has ample legacy hydro capacity but has been slower than neighboring California in terms of building solar and wind.
Oregon ranked 14th on the Solar Energy Industry Association’s 2017 Solar Market Insight Report, behind neighbors California (1st) and Nevada (9th), but ahead of Washington (34th) and Idaho (16th). The state’s largest solar power plant is the Gala project, a 56MW plant that sells its power to Apple, through a power purchase agreement. Outside of Gala, the state’s next largest project is the 16 MW Poplars Ranch solar farm, which is still under construction. Beyond those two, the rest of the state’s projects are all 11 MW or below.
If Oregon wants to become a serious player in corporate renewable energy, the appointment of Tawney is a step in the right direction. Corporations like Apple and Facebook have already shown interest in developing in the area.