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Oregon tells utilities not to buy coal-fired power

I spent a lot of time this morning trying to understand Oregon’s new greenhouse gas emissions standard for utilities. A new set of rules triggered by a 2009 law is on its way through the Oregon Department of Energy and the Oregon Public Utility Commission. The idea is to control the greenhouse gases emissions associated with Oregon’s electricity use by telling utilities not to make long-term plans to invest in coal-fired power.

The new standard is set at 1,100 pounds of greenhouse gases per megawatt hour. That’s roughly equivalent to the emissions rate of natural-gas-fired power, according to DOE spokeswoman Diana Enright. And it’s about half the rate of coal-fired power. The new DOE rules prevent utilities from entering new, long-term contracts to buy power from sources that exceed that standard (read: coal-fired power plants). That is, unless that source has plans to become a “low-carbon emission” source within seven years.

The DOE had a public workshop today on the rules that will apply to Oregon’s 36 consumer-owned utilities (the people’s utility districts, rural electric co-ops and municipal utilities – not the investor-owned utilities like Pacific Power and Portland General Electric). The DOE’s public comment period is officially open: Let the griping begin! The agency wants to finalize the rules by the end of August.

DOE policy analyst Bill Drumheller stressed that these rules only apply to future, long-term investments (including 5-year purchasing contracts or longer and investments in new power plants):

“It probably doesn’t have a short-term effect. If it has an effect it would be longer term. But there isn’t an unlimited supply of federal hydropower so in the future some of the consumer-owned utilities might need to go out and start looking for power.”

The bigger question, he said, is how the Oregon Public Utility Commission will implement similar rules for the investor-owned utilities, which serve “the bulk of the customer base in Oregon.” Ah…stay tuned.

Coal greenhouse gases Oregon Department of Energy

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