Sustainable Industries Bring Jobs, Energy Savings To Portland’s Cully Neighborhood

by | Oct 13, 2010

Darby and I attended the Cully Association of Neighbors monthly meeting last night in the social room at Grace Presbyterian Church on NE Prescott. City Commissioner Amanda Fritz opened the meeting by running down the many concerns on her plate. She said she’s working on a proposed Alcohol Impact Area in the downtown corridor that would cut down on public drunkenness, which is a big tax on city services. She also took questions, including one about the additional taxpayer burden to build a new Sellwood bridge. Frtiz said she’s happy that a deal was made because the Sellwood Bridge has a safety rating of 2 on a scale of 100, which makes me concerned to drive over it.

Good as it was to hear from Fritz, who is a whip smart City official, we were in the room to hear from John McKinney of Columbia Biogas. McKinney is leading the charge to open a state-of-the-art green energy facility at 6849 Columbia Boulevard, which is located in an industrial section of the Cully neighborhood. First, let me say that Darby and McKinney know each other from work–Columbia Biogas sublets office space from Cascadia Green Building Council in the EcoTrust Building. So, you might say we were “plants” in the audience, ready to support this important green business initiative. But I didn’t feel like a plant. I felt like an interested student. And we live in Cully.

McKinney explained his project in down-to-earth terms despite the complicated engineering at the center of it all. He said the production of biogas by anaerobic digestion of source-separated food waste is well-proven technology in Europe. His company’s proposed biogas plant in NE Portland will generate 5 megawatts of power–enough to run 4000 to 5000 residential homes. That’s a lot of power, all generated from locally-collected food waste that would otherwise go to landfills, and turn into methane gas, which is over 20 times more effective in trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

Naturally some citizen activists spoke up with concerns about the need for industrial safety, potential environmental impacts and the cultural and historic value of the site. McKinney patiently addressed everyone’s concerns and will do so again next week in a special meeting of the Concordia and Cully neighborhood associations at Word of Life Community Church on NE 55th Avenue.

After McKinney’s presentation, representatives from Changing the Climate in Cully, a neighborhood organizing project of Metropolitan Alliance for Common Good, spoke about their program that offers Cully homeowners free energy assessments and help with key weatherization efforts like insulation, air sealing and duct sealing and hot water upgrades. They mentioned that the deadline to apply for these free upgrades is fast approaching.

Overall, one couldn’t help but come away with the impression that there are a lot of committed, intelligent people working on civic solutions in this city. With so much media focus with what’s wrong with the economy, it’s nice to learn first-hand what’s right with it.