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County vets energy plan, eyes STR rules

Hood River County Board of Commissioners on Monday took a first glimpse at an energy plan on the table for five local government boards’ consideration.

John Roberts, County Community Development director, and Marla Harvey, county energy and sustainability coordinator, gave an overview of the plan.

“It’s a blueprint to reduce emissions from burning fossil fuels and increase economic benefits related to energy use in Hood River County while improving community resilience and energy independence,” Harvey told the board.

The non-binding advisory document lays out goals and objectives for local governments. A quartet of other panels will join the county in reviewing the plan over the next month: the cities and ports of Hood River and Cascade Locks.

Roberts said the county will be the first government to get a look at the plan and review it, before circling back at December’s meeting for a decision on whether to adopt it.

For the last year and a half, efforts have chugged along to develop the plan.

The county supported its launch through partial funding of a Resource Assistance for Rural Environments (RARE) AmeriCorps coordinator, supervisory support from Roberts, and other in-kind services since September 2016. Funding also came from partnering local governments, Energy Trust of Oregon and Ford Family Foundation.

A steering committee and other partners honed details in a public input process.

As a roadmap to help the community meet its future energy goals, the plan includes incremental energy goals for 2030, 2040, and 2050 and identifies strategies to achieve them. It focuses on four areas: buildings, transportation and land use, agriculture and water, and community-scale power generation.

A resolution — not yet adopted — prepared alongside the plan states climate change “threatens to significantly impact the surrounding natural environment and resources on which Hood River County’s economy and livability depends.”

Goals include:

•Replace power generated from fossil fuels with clean, renewable energy in buildings, water systems, and transportation by 30 percent in 2030, 50 percent in 2040 and 80 percent in 2050, as compared with 2016 levels.

•Generate half of the county's energy needs with new, local diversified energy sources and storage capacity by 2050. Increase overall capacity, price security, energy generation control and stability, and provide key services in the event of emergency.

•Boost investment in locally produced power. Specifically, strategize $25 million in revolving funds by 2025 to enable local clean energy projects and create a business environment that supports the Hood River County Energy Plan goals.

Commissioner Les Perkins, who has been a leader in the energy plan’s development, praised the concept.

“In the next five years things are going to change rapidly and communities that are thinking ahead are going to be in a position to take advantage of the changes,” Perkins said.

“The fact that if we can get five entities to sign on to the same plan — nobody does that. It’s a big deal (to funders).”

Commissioner Bob Benton identified some tweaks to the plan, such as focusing certain language on a countywide approach instead of city-centric. He also voiced an intention to review the goals and weigh the level of commitment that will be expected of the county.

Roberts said, “We’re really doing something unique in the state … there’s a lot of entities watching.”

In other business:

Commissioners revisited rules for regulating short-term rentals in unincorporated parts of the county.

Five rental applications have been appealed, and planning staff are seeking clarification and direction on a particular sticking point: defining residency for the purposes of the ordinance.

“This is the primary issue … overshadowing the appeals,” Roberts said of the residency requirement.

Roberts said the pending appeals could cost at least $32,000 in staff and legal time.

The board reached consensus to move forward with an amendment that will clear up language about the residency requirement, and to enforce the STR ordinance as usual for the time being.

Commissioners also signed off an intergovernmental agreement with Hood River Soil and Water Conservation District to serve as the Weed Control Program entity for the county on a temporary basis, and approved a letter of support for the HRSWCD grant application for funding to run the weed control program.

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