Ore. Lawmakers Seek to Replace Coal Power

A newly introduced piece of legislation seeks to eliminate coal-produced electricity from Oregon’s power grid over the next decade and replace it with renewable sources like solar and wind energy. Spearheaded by the Sierra Club, the Oregon Conservation Network, and Renewable Northeast, the “Coal to Clean” bill has been championed in the Oregon legislature by Sen. Chris Edwards and Rep. Tobias Read.

Potentially Problematic

Edwards and Read’s proposed legislation seeks to ban coal and prevent the building of new natural gas-fired electrical plants. It would mandate that utility providers replace these energy sources with alternatives that are 90 percent cleaner. Though the Northwest utilizes a good deal of hydroelectric power, a third of Oregon’s electricity is generated by coal-fired power plants.

Without two of their biggest and more reliable energy sources, Oregon’s electric companies would have a considerable hole to fill. Just under a third of Portland General Electric’s energy is derived from coal power, while PacifiCorp delivers coal-derived electricity to two-thirds of its customers across six states in the region.

And while the two utility companies (and many others) have long been under pressure from a variety of environmental to find a greener way to do business, they argue that it’s simply not that easy. The increased cost to customers is one of many concerns. The cost of transitioning away from coal and natural gas is “going to be in the billions and billions of dollars, and how that breaks out for Oregon [utility customers is] inestimable,” said PacifiCorp spokesman Paul Vogel. “It’s not the right way to go about this transition that we all agree we need to be on.”

The future of electricity in our fair state.

The future of electricity in our fair state.

Give Me Green or Give Me Death

Increased rates are a small price to pay for a more environmentally-friendly electrical system, supporters of the bill say. “Ultimately, we’re going to have to reduce our emissions and close the coal plants,” said Bob Jenks, executive director of the Citizen’s Utility Board of Oregon (CUB), a residential ratepayer advocate group. “The theory here is let’s phase these out in a reasonable timetable of ten years and do this in a way that’s least cost [sic] to ratepayers.”

Said Rachel Shimshak, executive director of Renewable Northwest, “We think it will be cheaper for customers to transition away from dirty resources now and invest in a cleaner mix. […] You might as well make the right decision in the first place. It’s a no-regrets policy.”

According to a recent Sierra Club poll, 71 percent of Oregonians support the bill. Roughly 58 percent of respondents stated that they would support the legislation despite the potential rise in energy costs. Almost have of those polled said they would be more inclined to vote for politicians who support the bill.

Looks like the ball’s in your court, energy companies. Make the right play.

Photo credit: janie.hernandez55 / Foter / CC BY