Lawmakers Propose Preserving and Expanding Troubled Oregon Department of Energy

Legislative oversight committee proposes new positions, board as remedies for agency struggles.

The Oregon Department of Energy can't stay out of the news.

Earlier this week, The Oregonian reported that an outside auditor flagged $347 million in energy tax credit deals that it thought the Oregon Department of Justice should examine for possible fraud or criminal behavior.

The outside audit came after years of bad news about the Energy Department's generous subsidies. Over 35 years, the state handed out nearly 15,000 tax credits that cost the state more than $1 billion in forgone revenue. Most of those credits came in the past decade as Oregon moved aggressively toward green energy.

Related: Oregon's largest green fuels producer, a $200 million ethanol plant, ran for seven months, then shut down for good.

As lawmakers came to realize they'd given away vastly more tax revenue than they'd realized, some pushed to reduce subsidies (the biggest program, the Business Energy Tax Credit ended in 2014) or even shut the agency down completely.

In January, Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem) and House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland) appointed a legislative oversight committee to ponder the agency's future under Gov. Kate Brown.

Today, the committee will present its recommendations.

Those recommendations include that the agency, which has 84 employees and an annual budget of $18.7 million, not only continue to exist but that it expand, adding permanent positions to coordinate state and federal energy policies and to address natural gas transportation issues. It also would get its own permanent board, to be appointed by the governor. The panel also suggests that the ODOE director, who is appointed by the governor, be approved by the Senate. The agency has had five directors in the past seven years.

Lawmakers will decide on the oversight committee's recommendations when the Legislature convenes next year.