What Is Oregon’S Main Source Of Energy?

What is Oregon's main source of energy?

Oregon has a diverse energy landscape, relying on a mix of renewable and nonrenewable sources for electricity generation and energy consumption. The state has vast hydropower resources and is a leader in renewable energy, with over 70% of its electricity coming from renewable sources in 2022. However, fossil fuels like natural gas and coal still play an important role. This article will provide an overview of the major energy sources used in Oregon and discuss trends in the state’s energy mix.

Hydroelectric Power

Hydroelectric power has long been a major source of renewable energy in Oregon. The Columbia River system and its tributaries offer abundant hydroelectric potential thanks to the river’s strong flows and steep elevation drops. Oregon’s first hydroelectric dam was built in 1888 on the Willamette River to provide power for Portland. But things really took off with the construction of the massive Bonneville Dam in 1937-1938, as part of the New Deal public works projects. Bonneville was the first federal dam on the Columbia River system and helped spur the rapid development of hydro power in the Northwest. It was followed by Grand Coulee Dam (completed 1942), which remains the largest hydroelectric power producer in the United States. Today, Oregon is home to over 50 hydroelectric dams, mostly located along the mainstem of the Columbia River. Many of the dams are federally owned and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation. The nonprofit Bonneville Power Administration markets the power generated by 31 federally owned dams in the region. In 2017, over 50% of Oregon’s net electricity generation came from hydroelectric power, with the majority produced at facilities along the Columbia River system. The abundance of clean, renewable hydro power has been a boon for Oregon’s economy and environment. Construction of the dams also expanded irrigation, made river transportation possible, and provided flood control.





Natural Gas

Natural gas plays a significant role in Oregon’s energy portfolio. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, natural gas accounted for 21% of Oregon’s total energy consumption in 2020. The state relies on natural gas to generate electricity, heat homes and businesses, and power industrial facilities.

Most of the natural gas used in Oregon comes from basins in the Rocky Mountain region of the western United States and Canada. The state imports natural gas via pipelines from other states. Major natural gas pipelines that serve Oregon include the Northwest Pipeline, Tuscarora Pipeline, and Ruby Pipeline.

Natural gas demand in Oregon peaked in 1996 at 840 billion cubic feet. Usage declined in the early 2000s but has rebounded in recent years due to low prices. The EIA projects natural gas demand in Oregon will continue to grow over the next decade as new natural gas power plants come online to replace retiring coal plants. However, growth in renewable energy may temper demand.[1]


Coal power plants contributed around 30% of Oregon’s net electricity generation in 2019, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (1). Oregon had two operating coal power plants as of 2019: the Boardman Coal Plant and the Coyote Station power plant (2). However, the Boardman Coal Plant, which was Oregon’s only in-state coal plant, was shut down in 2020 after its owners decided it was not economical to add required environmental controls (1). Currently, the Coyote Station power plant located across the border in North Dakota provides a portion of Oregon’s imported coal power.

While coal generation in Oregon has been declining in recent years, mainly due to the closure of the Boardman plant, it still remained the second largest source behind hydroelectric in 2019 (1). Coal has provided a relatively inexpensive and reliable baseload source of power generation for Oregon over the years. However, concerns over emissions and new environmental regulations have put economic pressure on coal plants.

(1) https://www.eia.gov/state/analysis.php?sid=OR
(2) https://www.westernjournal.com/west-coast-dead-center-solar-eclipse-learn-happens-renewable-energy-sun-goes-dark/

Wind Power

Wind energy has seen significant growth in Oregon over the past decade. According to the Oregon Department of Energy, wind power accounted for 11.6% of Oregon’s electricity generation in 2019, up from just 2.5% in 2010.1 Oregon now has over 3,000 utility-scale wind turbines at 38 wind farms across the state, with a total installed capacity of over 3,700 MW as of 2019.2

Much of Oregon’s wind power growth has come from new wind farm developments east of the Cascades, especially in Sherman, Gilliam, and Morrow counties. The Shepherd’s Flat wind farm in Morrow and Gilliam counties, for example, became fully operational in 2012 and is currently the largest wind farm in the state with an installed capacity of 845 MW.3 More wind farms are planned or under construction, ensuring wind will continue to be a major renewable energy source for Oregon moving forward.

Solar Power

Solar power has seen increasing adoption in Oregon over the past decade. According to the Oregon Solar Dashboard, the amount of solar energy generated in the state has grown rapidly since 2012. In 2020, solar accounted for 2.89% of all electricity generated in Oregon, producing around 1,077,900 MWh.

Most of Oregon’s solar generation comes from utility-scale solar farms, but rooftop solar on homes and businesses is also growing. Oregon currently ranks 21st nationally for total installed solar capacity, with over 1,715 MW online as of Q3 2023 according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. That’s enough to power over 210,000 homes in the state.

The Oregon Department of Energy offers incentives for residential and commercial solar installations. Net metering policies allow solar customers to earn bill credits for excess power sent back to the grid. Overall, solar power has become an increasingly important part of Oregon’s renewable energy portfolio.


Oregon utilizes biomass, which is organic matter such as plants, residues from agriculture or forestry, or the organic component of municipal and industrial wastes, as an energy source. The state has abundant forests that provide great potential for generating renewable energy from woody biomass. According to the Oregon/Washington Bureau of Land Management, “Wood-to-energy projects can support forest restoration with beneficial results for people, natural resources and communities.”

Specifically, Oregon uses forest residues like tree tops, branches, and logging debris left over from timber harvesting operations to produce biomass energy. The Quantification of Logging Residues in Oregon study found that “logging residues constitute an underutilized source of bioenergy feedstock.” Converting these residues into energy supports sustainable forest management practices.

Oregon’s woody biomass power plants combust wood waste to generate electricity. In 2019, biomass accounted for over 1,100,000 MWh of net electricity generation in the state, meeting about 3% of Oregon’s energy needs. Using biomass for energy production provides environmental benefits like reducing open burning of forest residues, lowering wildfire risks, and offsetting fossil fuel use.


Oregon has significant potential for geothermal energy due to its location along the Cascadia Subduction Zone. According to the Oregon Department of Energy, Oregon has the potential to generate up to 18,890 megawatts of electricity from geothermal sources, though only a small fraction of that potential has been tapped so far.1 Some of the most promising locations for geothermal development are in central and eastern Oregon.

One of the most high-profile geothermal projects in Oregon is the Newberry Enhanced Geothermal Systems Demonstration project located about 20 miles south of Bend. This research project, funded by the Department of Energy, is demonstrating enhanced geothermal techniques that could unlock even greater geothermal potential in Oregon and beyond.2

Currently, Oregon has three small geothermal power plants with a combined capacity of about 16 megawatts. So while geothermal supplies only a tiny fraction of Oregon’s electricity today, advocates see great potential for growth if enhanced geothermal techniques can be proven viable on a commercial scale.

Future Outlook

Oregon has adopted ambitious renewable energy goals for the future. In 2016, the state legislature passed House Bill 4036 which requires utilities to generate 50% of their electricity from renewable sources like wind and solar by 2040 (Oregon Clean Energy Targets : Action on Climate Change).

In 2021, the state legislature passed House Bill 2021 which sets even more aggressive renewable energy targets (Oregon’s clean energy goals). It requires utilities to generate 80% of their electricity from clean, renewable sources by 2030. By 2040, utilities must be 100% carbon-free.

Major utilities like Portland General Electric and Pacific Power have developed plans to meet Oregon’s renewable energy standards through massive investments in wind and solar power (Oregon Clean Energy Plan). For example, PGE plans to reduce coal generation by 50% and build new renewable energy facilities capable of serving 460,000 homes by 2025.

If utilities meet these renewable energy goals as planned, Oregon will transform its electricity supply to be largely based on clean sources like wind, solar and hydropower in the coming decades.


Oregon utilizes a diverse mix of energy sources to meet electricity demand across the state. However, hydroelectric power from the numerous dams along the Columbia and Snake Rivers is by far the predominant source, supplying over 50% of Oregon’s net electricity generation. Natural gas is the next largest source at over 20% of generation, providing flexible power to complement hydro and renewables. Other significant sources are coal, wind, solar, biomass and geothermal. Looking ahead, hydro will continue to dominate but growth is expected in renewable sources like solar and wind as their costs decline. Natural gas will remain important for grid reliability. Overall, Oregon will continue balancing its renewable energy goals with the value of its existing hydroelectric infrastructure.

Similar Posts