A bill in the Oregon Legislature this session would require electric companies to stop delivering coal-fired power to Oregon customers by 2025.
The replacement power would have to come from sources that are 90 percent cleaner than coal plants.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Tobias Read (D-Beaverton) and Sen. Chris Edwards (D-Eugene), targets coal-fired power coming into Oregon from out of state. Oregon’s only coal-fired power plant in Boardman is scheduled to be retired in 2020.
It would affect two investor-owned utilities in the state: Pacific Power and Portland General Electric, both of which own out-of-state coal facilities.
Both companies say the bill would drive up their Oregon customers’ electric bills without guaranteeing an overall reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
Read says he’d rather see Oregonians spend money on clean energy than on upgrading aging coal plants. He also notes the bill could create new markets for renewable energy.
“If it passes, we’ll see a cleaner energy future,” he said. “In addition to that we would see the potential of new jobs and new industries and technologies developing in Oregon.”
PGE spokesman Steve Corson says while his company is scheduled to close the Boardman plant by 2020, that doesn’t mean the bill won’t affect PGE customers.
The company also has an ownership share in two coal-fired units in Montana and purchases a portion of its power from the open market, which includes some coal-fired power.
“We’re very concerned,” Corson said. “It is very early in the process, of course. We would want to see some careful scrutiny and analysis of what the real impact of this legislation would be.”
Scott Bolton, director of government affairs for PacifiCorp, says the bill doesn’t require out-of-state coal plants to shut down, so it won’t necessarily reduce overall emissions. It could, however, force utilities to add additional power sources that Oregonians alone will have to pay for.
“It could potentially be a very expensive way to not get much environmental benefit,” he said.
Bolton said he doesn’t know exactly how much it would raise Pacific Power customers’ electric bills.
“We’re analyzing the impacts,” he said. “At this point, it seems that there are much more cost-effective ways to transition energy resources than just giving a deadline for using coal resources.”
Amy Hojnowski of the Sierra Club says her organization has made the bill a top priority this session. The environmental group funded a recent poll that found a majority of voters support the bill. The poll, conducted by Strategies 360, found 58 percent of Oregon voters would support the bill even if it increased their utility bills.