OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

OSU alums help power PGE innovation

06/02/2010

PORTLAND, Ore. – When many Oregonians reach to flip on their light switch, they don’t really think twice about why the bulb lights up. They only notice when it doesn’t.

That’s what the staff of Portland General Electric (PGE) counts on, service so smooth and consistent that customers have confidence that when they flip that switch, the world will illuminate. And nearly 150 of those staff members are Oregon State University alums.

Those employees are involved in a variety of projects that make the world a better, as well as a brighter, place. From solar energy to wind power, to electric car charging stations, to helping fish navigate dammed rivers, these OSU alums are improving their community and the environment.

Through its “Orange Spotlight” program, OSU is recognizing PGE as an exemplary business demonstrating a dedication to community service, sustainability and innovation. Part of the “Powered by Orange” campaign, the Orange Spotlight features a different business each month.

Jim Piro is president and CEO of PGE. He’s also a 1974 graduate of Oregon State, where he majored in civil engineering. Piro, a Portland native, chose OSU because of its intensive and competitive engineering program. He began working in PGE’s Generation Engineering department in 1980 before eventually going into PGE financial and management positions.

Piro is so dedicated to his OSU ties, and to the quality of employees that OSU has provided to the company, he has established a scholarship fund for the OSU College of Engineering. Additionally, the PGE Foundation offers five scholarships focused on engineering. Training tomorrow’s engineers, he says, is crucial, especially given PGE’s aging workforce.

“The average age of our employees is 46 and we’re going to see 25 percent of our workforce retire in the next 10 years,” he said. In addition to engineers, PGE will need accountants, human resource personnel, legal staff and other positions filled as well, and many of those will come from OSU.

One of the reasons PGE has been named an Orange Spotlight business is because of its emphasis on renewable energy. In the past two decades, PGE has gone through many changes. They’ve added more natural gas plants, upgraded power plants to make them more efficient and are working to add more renewable energy resources, including wind and solar power generation.

“One of the challenges we’re facing as an industry is how do we integrate a variable resource like wind into the power grid and provide our customers with reliable power,” Piro said.

While renewable energy only makes up a portion of the energy that PGE provides, the company is continuously exploring new ways to support those efforts, and part of it is because of the increasing demand of Northwest customers.

“We have more renewable power customers than any other utility in the nation,” Piro said. “Customers are willing to pay a little more for renewable power. It shows their commitment to renewable resources. The population in Oregon has always had a real emphasis on energy efficiency.”

PGE generates four percent of its renewable power from the Biglow Canyon wind farm in Sherman County. Another 76 turbines will come online this year, and PGE will have the capacity to generate 450 megawatts of wind power.

One of PGE’s recent projects has been a unique fish restoration project at PGE’s Pelton Round Butte Project on the lower Deschutes River.  The structure is the only known floating surface fish collection facility coupled with power generation in the world. PGE has been nominated for the Edison Award, the electric industry’s most prestigious award, for the work. The first-of-its-kind fish bypass and intake structure on Lake Billy Chinook returns temperatures in the lower Deschutes River to historic patterns and restores downstream passage of Chinook, steelhead and sockeye smolts.