Senators swoop in talking green

A second U.S. Senator from Oregon arrived in town in as many days Thursday.

The day after Senator Ron Wyden made an appearance at The Dalles Wahtonka High School, Senator Jeff Merkley paid a visit to Columbia Gorge Community College.  He was there to take a look at the college’s Renewable Energy Technology program.

Merkley arrived at the fog-covered CGCC campus, appropriately enough, in a Toyota Prius and headed directly for one of the renewable energy classrooms.

On the third floor of building one, a class of around 30 students of all ages was preparing for a test on wind energy technology. Merkley and his aides walked in to pay a visit to what he sees as the forefront of Oregon’s technological future.

“I wanted to come by and introduce myself,” Merkley said to the class, “and just see what you were all up to and get more familiar with the program, so I and my team can be more effective in agitating, if you will, on behalf of programs like this and on behalf of Oregon.”

Merkley asked the students about their backgrounds. Nearly a quarter of the class are from different areas of the country and moved to Oregon to learn about the technology behind creating alternative power. Merkley commended them on their commitment to their work with new forms of energy.

“In the future, we’re going to be using a lot more wind power and a lot more solar power,” he said. “You’re obviously a big, expanding part. That effort is going to be very critical for our nation, so having programs like this is essential to helping promote that industry and making it possible to move forward faster.”

In a recession, Merkley said, four-year colleges are losing some of their charm to people who are looking for ways to save money. The route the students at CGCC are taking, he feels, is a sign that community colleges are getting the recognition they are due.

“Community colleges are in transition,” Merkeley said. “It used to be that they were entirely funded within the communities that they’re in. We’ve been working in order to assist communities in expanding. Community colleges are an incredibly cost-effective way to provide education and training.”

Programs like the one at CGCC are popping up at community colleges across the state and across the country, Merkley said. The advances made at the college in The Dalles are having an impact on the way the energy business is run and the way it’s taught.