High Tech, Grand Vision and Low-Emissions at Oregon Institute of Technology


In April the Oregon institute of Technology became the first university in North America to generate all of its energy on-site. With its Klamath Falls campus sitting atop geothermal springs, the university has now installed two geothermal power plants that, together with a solar electric system, generate more electricity than the university consumes.

OIT began using geothermal energy to heat campus buildings in 1964. Fifty years later, the university built geothermal power plants in two stages—cutting its teeth on a 0.28-megawatt module that was the first operating geothermal power plant in Oregon. The success of that system, followed by the ability to garner additional financial support, led to the installation of the recent 1.75-MW project. In combination, they generate an estimated 8,315,000 kilowatt hours annually, reducing energy costs by nearly one-half million dollars per year. Oregon Tech also installed 7,800 ground-mounted solar electric panels next to the John F. Moehl football stadium, with a total capacity of just under 2 MW.

A $1 million investment through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was used to develop an innovative technology to generate electricity from low-temperature geothermal resources at an estimated 20% cost savings over conventional binary systems. Industry partner Johnson Controls, Inc., provided $4 million in cost-share to demonstrate this novel, nearly emission-free technology at Klamath Falls. The Oregon Department of Energy has also helped fund development of the geothermal resources with a matching cost-share by the university. The Energy Trust of Oregon also invested $1.5 million in the project.

As I noted in my comments during the ribbon cutting ceremony, this project sets a new standard for universities. By promoting home-grown energy and a healthier environment, OIT is strengthening local and state economies. Solar City employed dozens of people to complete the project, and the modules used for the solar array were built in Oregon.

This is good for the economy now and into the future. By 2020, the clean energy industry is forecasted to triple in size, and students from OIT will be ready for those jobs, with real-world experience and skills from OIT’s clean energy lab.

Another terrific aspect to this project is that OIT will be donating excess energy produced to local low-income energy programs, helping families who can use a little break on their energy bills.

Oregon Institute of Technology deserves high praise for its vision and tenacity in seeing this project through. It increases prosperity in the Klamath Falls community and provides an important example of can-do leadership for the world.

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Cylvia is a speaker, writer and teacher of Economic Evolution.  She is an award winning New Economy leader who is known for speaking truth to power.  

She is faculty in the Sustainability Department, College of Agriculture, Oregon State University and is founder and director of The ReThink.    

She is a smart systems thinker who understands and is able to describe the deeper connections between seemingly unrelated issues. She is also the former First Lady of Oregon.


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