Rep. Owens Explores Denmark’s Approach to Renewable Energy and Community Engagement

By | Elkhorn Media | Thursday, September 21st, 2023

COPENHAGEN — A delegation of Oregon and Washington lawmakers, including Rep. Bobby Levy (R-Cove), Rep. Mark Owens (R-Crane) and Sen. Lynn Findley (R-Vale) recently returned from a tour of Denmark to learn how the small Scandinavian nation has become a world leader in renewable, green energy.

The group was invited on the tour by NW Natural Gas, a major natural gas distributor based in Portland. Oregon has been at the forefront of the green energy movement, aiming to eliminate coal-fired electricity by 2028 and transition to nearly 100 percent carbon-free energy by 2035. However, the path to achieving these ambitious goals is fraught with challenges. Some in Oregon advocate for an all-encompassing approach, including the complete removal of natural gas, which Rep. Owens believes may not provide the necessary balance.

Northwest Natural has championed green energy but also recognizes the significance of natural gas in the transition. Owens says the company has considered converting pipelines to renewable hydrogen and maintaining natural gas as a backup for grid emergencies, yet faces opposition from certain quarters.

Denmark also has a goal of becoming completely green by 2050. What intrigued Rep. Owens was Denmark’s realization that natural gas could still have a role in this transition. They explored options like converting it to biogas or hydrogen. He says Denmark didn’t abandon existing energy sources; instead, they incorporated them into their strategy.

Owens says what left an impression was their publicly owned electrical grid eliminated disputes over power sources and allowed for creative energy sourcing. Biogas, derived from organic materials like cow manure and food waste, comprised a significant portion of their gas supply, and they planned to scale it up to replace much of their natural gas. Denmark also harnessed local renewable energy sources and actively involved the community in ownership, which Owens says fosters a symbiotic relationship.

Denmark also turns waste products from one industry into resources for another, building community ownership and support in the process. Owens says that in Oregon, the NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) attitude often hinders green initiatives, but Denmark shows that community involvement could change perceptions.

So why hasn’t Oregon adopted such innovative approaches? Rep. Owens pointed to the regulatory structure and the influence of private energy companies like PG&E and Pacific Corp. He says while these companies are essential, they haven’t engaged the community as Denmark had.

Rep. Owens acknowledged the Pacific Northwest’s abundance of renewable energy resources, particularly hydroelectric power. Still, he says he recognizes that rural Oregon faces challenges in meeting the state’s ambitious sustainability goals. Sacrifices would be necessary, including potential increases in electricity rates, but the question remains: How could communities benefit from these changes?