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Friday, March 30, 2007

News From My Backyard - Senate Committee Sends Oregon Renewable Energy Act to the Floor

SB 838, which establishes a 25% by 2025 renewable energy standard passed out of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday with a 4-1 bipartisan vote.

[Please see full disclosure at end of post]

The Oregon Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee voted to send the Oregon Renewable Energy Act, SB 838, to the Senate floor on Tuesday with bipartisan support. Senator Jason Atkinson (R-Grants Pass) joined committee Democrats Brad Avakian (D-Bethany), Alan Bates (D-Medford) and Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene) in a 4-1 vote to send the bill on to a full Senate vote.

The bipartisan vote was a fitting end to five full days of testimony during which the Committee heard overwhelmingly positive support from a diverse range of Oregon constituents.

Governor Ted Kulongoski kicked off the hearings on March 6th and his supportive testimony was followed by renewable energy advocates and environmentalists, rural Oregonian farmers, ranchers, irrigators and county officials, Native American tribes, business owners, consumer advocates, venture capitalists, faith organizations and state government officials who all joined together to support the proposed Renewable Energy Standard [see previous posts here and here discussing hearings].

The state's two large investor-owned utilities, Portland General Electric and PacifiCorp, as well as the Oregon Municipal Utilities Association and the Eugene Water and Electric Board all testified in support of SB 838 as well.

The committee vote followed a work session during which several amendments to the bill were proposed. Most were struck down along party lines with the committee's three democrats objecting to a number of amendments proposed by committee member Senator Roger Beyer, the one committee-member to vote 'no' on the bill.

Two amendments did stick though which created three changes to the bill.

The first amendment clarifies that the state's regulated utilities - PGE and PacifiCorp - should view the allotment of energy conservation moneys supplied by the state public purpose charge as a floor, not a ceiling. That is, the amendment specifies that the Public Utility Commission can approve additional spending to capture cost-effective efficiency and conservation measures above and beyond the public purpose charge moneys specifically dedicated to energy conservation and efficiency (i.e. through the Energy Trust of Oregon).

The second amendment resulted in two substantive changes to the bill. First, the cutoff that exempts small utilities from the primary renewable energy standard was raised from utilities serving less than 1% of total Oregon load to utilities serving less than 1.5% of state load. Utilities serving less than 1.5% of state load will now be subject to a much smaller standard of only 5% by 2025. However some of these small utilities may 'drift in' to the primary standard if their load grows to equal more than 1.5% of the state load, and they lose their exemption if they invest in any new coal-fired power plants or make contract purchases for new coal-fired electricity. This change was made to quiet some of the more vocal opponents of the bill - Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative serving northeastern Oregon, in particular - who lie just below the new 1.5% cut-off. [This compromise was probably also crucial in securing Senator Atkinson's vote]

The second change specifies that research, development and deployment (RD&D) expenditures on emerging renewable energy technologies can count towards a consumer-owned utility's cost cap expenditures. This was included to appease coastal public utility districts who plan to invest in wave power demonstration/pilot facilities, including Central Lincoln PUD's involvement in the proposed OPT wave farm off of Reedsport [see previous post]. [This compromise will hopefully help secure the votes of coastal democrats in the house who may be convinced to oppose the bill by reluctant PUDs]

The bill now moves to a full vote on the Senate floor sometime in the next two weeks. It's possible that the vote will happen as early as next Tuesday (to coincide with environmental lobby day), but due to procedural time constraints, it is more likely that the vote will happen next Wednesday or Thursday, or perhaps be pushed into the beginning of the following week.

[Things look pretty good at this point for passage in the Senate. The question now is how much momentum will the bill have, and will it get bogged down in the House.

Support in the House Energy and Environment Committee looks strong and the bill will most likely make it out of the House committee after one hearing and perhaps one work session, hopefully without getting further amended. If it can pass the House without further amendments, it'll be signed into law by Governor Kulognoski. If the House amends the bill, it will have to go back to the Senate for another vote.

I hope that the bill will carry forward with momentum and pass out of the House without too much trouble, but this bill has the potential to be a 'go home' item for the legislature if it gets bogged down in the House.

If you are an Oregon voter, now would be an appropriate time to call your state Senator and tell them to support SB 838 when it comes to the floor next week. You can find your state senator here.


  • Powering Oregon's Future - Information and Resources on SB 838, the Oregon Renewable Energy Act
  • Previous post summarizing SB 838 [note: does not reflect latest amendments]
  • Previous posts here and here on Senate Committee Hearings for Oregon Renewable Energy Act
  • Audio archive of March 27th work session

  • [Full disclosure: I work for Renewable Northwest Project, key advocates of the proposed Renewable Energy Standard. I am responsible for maintaining the Powering Oregon's Future website and am responsible for most of it's content. I should be no means be considered an 'unbiased party' but have done my best to report in a factual and balanced manner the events that have transpired during the hearings on SB 838.]

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