Emphasizing education and his state's economy, Oregon's new governor on Monday offered an inaugural address that was devoid of any clues as to how he will treat energy issues in a state buffeted by high unemployment and a $3.5 billion budget deficit. However, a spokesperson in the state energy department said Gov. John Kitzhaber has indicated that he wants to focus on energy efficiency, biomass and long-term energy planning.

One of the officials tied to a liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in the state told NGI Tuesday that he knows Kitzhaber is concerned about job creation, as his inaugural remarks emphasized, and that the two proposed LNG terminal projects could help support that effort. Another LNG project manager does not see the new administration slowing down remaining permitting, and he thinks the Kitzhaber administration will not politicize the processing.

"On the campaign trail, the new governor expressed a preference for natural gas in the energy mix, but primarily domestic supplies, " said Bob Braddock, project manager for the Jordan Cove LNG terminal project. "His references were very general with nothing specifically against LNG."

The Oregon Department of Energy and the Kitzhaber transition team have been meeting since the November elections, the energy unit spokesperson said. The discussions have focused on energy efficiency, biomass and long-term energy planning.

"Specifically, [Kitzhaber] is focused on energy efficiency in schools and seeing how much more can be done in all of the schools around Oregon," the spokesperson said. "Another is the biomass energy and what that might mean for job creation in the state, and finally, there is the creation of a 10-year energy plan for the state. Those are the three contact areas we have had with the governor's team."

In his remarks, Kitzhaber warned against letting budget deficits "consume" the state's policymakers. "If we do this right -- and if we do it together -- we can navigate through this recession and this budget deficit to the brighter waters that lie beyond."

With the proposed Oregon LNG project near the mouth of the Columbia River, and the Jordan Cove LNG plant along the Pacific Coast at Coos Bay, OR (see Daily GPI, Oct. 27, 2010), the state is wrestling with questions of future gas demand and infrastructure for the region as new pipeline capacity promises increased future supplies from the Rockies. At the same time major electric infrastructure needs are developing around the buildup of renewable-based power and the longer-term goal of phasing out coal-fired generation serving the state.

Eventually Kitzhaber will have to address these areas as part of the state's planning and job creation tied to alternative energy development. But for now there are few specifics on energy coming from Kitzhaber, who is taking over the state's chief executive job for the second time. A former practicing emergency room physician from the University of Oregon Medical School, Kitzhaber previously was governor from 1995 through 2003.

Jordan Cove's Braddock is not concerned by the new governor's apparent lack of focus on energy. LNG, per se, does not appear to be as big of a negative for the new administration compared to the last governor, he said. "It is a topic that doesn't resonate one way or the other [with Kitzhaber and his staff], I would suspect."

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