Oregon Environmental Quality Commissioner Judy Uherbelau raised a concern before today’s vote on an early closure plan for the Boardman coal-fired power plant.
She’s worried that the DEQ’s air pollution rules don’t actually guarantee an early plant closure. She may be right. But DEQ staff assured her that although DEQ cannot force the plant to close, it’s very unlikely Portland General Electric would continue to operate the plant beyond the 2020.
Dave Robertson, PGE’s vice president of public policy, said a 2020 closure is absolutely the company’s new game plan (before the new rulemaking process the plant was scheduled to operate through 2040).
“With these new rules, the 2040 plan goes away – it turns into a pumpkin,” Robertson said after the vote.
But according to Oregon Department of Environmental Quality staff, there are a few looming threats on the horizon to the plant’s continued operation – even through 2020:
- The Environmental Protection Agency is developing a new standard for hazardous air pollutants that is due out next year. Depending on what the standard is, the cost of continued operations at Boardman could go high enough to make an earlier closure more cost effective.
- The Sierra Club and other environmental groups have sued PGE over its air pollution at Boardman, claiming the plant isn’t following the Clean Air Act. The outcome of the lawsuit could affect PGE’s decision to keep Boardman running through 2020.
- The EPA has accused PGE of violating the Clean Air Act at Boardman since 1998 and threatened to charge the company millions in fines for alleged failures to follow new pollution source rules when it made boiler improvements at the plant. The outcome of that violation notice could also affect the plant’s long-term viability, according to DEQ.
Robertson said he can’t speculate as to whether any of those factors will result in a closure before 2020. But he explained why the company wouldn’t want to close the plant earlier. For one, continuing operation offers the cheapest and most reliable electricity source the company has available. Finding a quick replacement for coal-fired power would likely mean switching to 100 percent natural gas.
Given more time, Robertson said, the company can consider renewable power resources and examine new technologies that would move the plant – which supplies 15 percent of the company’s power – away from coal with less impact on the price of electricity.