Oregon's ambitious sustainable power plant An Oregon utility has constructed a renewable energy power plant that relies on wind, solar energy and batteries to power the grid when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing.

Oregon's ambitious sustainable power plant

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Oregon has one of the most ambitious climate plans in the country. It completely phases out fossil fuels to generate electricity by 2040. But cleaner renewable energy comes with a challenge. Most plants only generate power when the sun shines and the wind blows. Monica Samayoa from Oregon Public Broadcasting visited a facility that uses batteries to help solve the problem.

MONICA SAMAYOA, BYLINE: In rural eastern Oregon, rising from bright yellow wheat fields and framed by snow-covered mountains, there are hundreds of giant wind turbines and solar panels generating clean electric energy. Unlike fossil fuel power plants, there's little noise, just the gentle whooshing of wind turbines...


SAMAYOA: ...And the occasional sound of a motor adjusting solar panels to track the sun. Walk closer, and you can see what's unique about this power plant - batteries to store electricity. You can also hear another sound.


JANA LEHN: The high frequency - you're hearing the inverter, and then you got fans blowing.

SAMAYOA: Jana Lehn with NextEra Energy Resources says the inverter makes it possible to use the energy generated as electricity in homes.

LEHN: From our inverter, we can go out to the grid, or we can go and charge our batteries. And then at night, when we don't have any sun to produce power, we can push power from our batteries through our inverter out to the grid.

SAMAYOA: Portland General Electric started operating this first-of-its-kind power plant in March. It generates up to 350 megawatts of clean energy, enough to power about 100,000 homes. The batteries store enough to power about a quarter of that for four hours. The utility's director of sustainability strategy, Kristen Sheeran, says adding batteries increases the reliability of clean energy resources.

KRISTEN SHEERAN: You are seeing the next iteration of battery storage technology and the ability to integrate that on site or near site to where, you know, wind and solar energy is actually being produced. So I think you're going to see more of these types of facilities in the future.

SAMAYOA: The state's main utility watchdog group supported plans for this plant. Bob Jenks is the executive director of the Oregon Citizens' Utility Board.

BOB JENKS: This is a good example that we can move to a clean energy system. We can get emissions out. We can deal with climate change. The technology is not the problem. The technology exists.

SAMAYOA: Jenks says, to meet Oregon's clean energy goals, there needs to be a diversity of renewable resources and flexibility. He says, adding batteries helps provide both. But he says battery capacity can decline over time. The utility says, as technology advances, the facility is already built to handle more battery storage. Jenks says weather is another variable that affects batteries.

JENKS: Anyone who owns an electric vehicle knows that in the winter, you don't get the same amount of miles as you get in the summer.

SAMAYOA: Still, Jenks says the facility is good for ratepayers, and he hopes it will change when, where and how clean energy is created and stored across the state. Portland General Electric expects to build more power plants like this one, enough to power about half a million homes by the end of the decade.

For NPR News, I'm Monica Samayoa in Lexington, Ore.

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