In the fall of 2014, a group of citizens came together in Roseburg around a common mission: To improve quality of life for Douglas County residents while saving them money by catalyzing a shift to renewable energy and energy conservation.

Douglas County Smart Energy was formed, and two years later, they took a uniquely Oregon opportunity to boost their impact by participating in a program called Resource Assistance for Rural Environments. Each year, the RARE Program places thirty Americorps participants in rural communities around Oregon for a one-year period to coordinate a variety of collaborative community service projects.

RARE is how I landed in Roseburg from my former home of Hood River, and my one year of service is now wrapping up. I have had an incredible time working with Douglas County Smart Energy, coordinating renewable energy projects and promoting energy efficiency. With just a few weeks left, I am reflecting on the successes I’ve helped create and the remarkable people I’ve gotten to work with. Here are the top projects I got to work on:

  • Coordinating the submission of four grant proposals to place solar arrays on the buildings of community groups serving low-to-moderate income residents. Two of these grant proposals were to the Pacific Power Blue Sky Foundation, the fund made possible by contributions of Pacific Power rate payers. We won’t know for a couple more months if these projects will be fully funded, but we are feeling very encouraged by the fact that we recently received partial funding for one of them.
  • Supporting the development of an additional four solar projects for nonprofits in the county that will serve the low-to-moderate income population as a member of the statewide Sunshot Solar in Your Community team, coordinated by Sustainable Northwest.
  • Helping pave the path for more funding options for medium-to-large solar projects in Douglas County by making it easier for nonprofits, local governments, churches and other groups to take advantage of the federal investment tax credit, which can reduce project costs by 30 percent.
  • Participating in the submission of a grant to get four new electric vehicle charging stations in Roseburg.
  • Creating a plan to promote energy efficiency awareness that targets multiple sectors, including contractors, home builders, realtors, county and city staff and officials, K-12 students, and the general public.
  • Conducting outreach to twenty Douglas County school districts to get out the word about Bonneville Environmental Foundation’s solar curriculum program, Renewable Energy Leadership Lab.
  • Developing a list of Douglas County energy efficiency success stories of people who went the extra mile and built very energy efficient homes, discovering along the way how quickly the investment paid for itself.
  • I am in the midst of my last RARE project, surveying realtors and contractors to help DC Smart Energy better understand how to promote energy efficient construction. With buildings being responsible for approximately 40 percent of all energy consumption in the United States, and there being many tried and true (and cost effective) methods for constructing buildings that consume a fraction of the energy of buildings built to code, there is plenty of room for leaders in Douglas County to make a difference. This survey should help us better understand opportunities in the building industry in Douglas County, and potentially bring relevant training to the county.

At this point I haven’t decided what I’m doing next, but I’m finishing up my RARE year with immense gratitude for getting to work on such fun projects with such fantastic people. I’ve gotten to do work I care deeply about, and have discovered passion for a new career path I plan to pursue.

To those of you in Douglas County Smart Energy and others who helped make this possible, thank you, and keep up the excellent work.

Sander Lazar is a RARE volunteer working with DC Smart Energy and UCAN as the Renewable Energy Coordinator. For more information on energy efficiency and renewable energy, visit dcsmartenergy.org, or on Facebook by searching DCSmartEnergy.

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