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Thursday, September 10, 2009

30 More Years of Coal in Oregon? No Way, PGE!

Portland General Electric is a friendly company which likes to reassure Oregonians that their local utility is concerned about the planet. PGE will let you sign up to purchase renewable power, so the money you pay on rates goes to fund clean energy projects. The company’s homepage highlights how PGE is helping the owners of small, sustainable businesses. PGE’s been known to purchase advertising space on the sides of Portland’s MAX lightrail system, that read “I heart ice caps” above an image of gently turning wind turbines. And oh, yeah – PGE also wants to lock the state of Oregon into 30 more years of coal dependence.

PGE owns Oregon’s Boardman Coal Plant – the only coal-burning plant in the state. Fortunately, this month the company had a chance to show customers that it understood coal is over, and planned to move away from coal dependence as fast as possible. That’s because PGE was scheduled to release a draft plan of the Integrated Resource Plan that it releases every two years, to explain how it plans to meet its energy needs for the next two decades. PGE considered many possible scenarios, including options that would have involved phasing out dependence on Boardman. Unfortunately, PGE decided that the best option for Oregon’s energy future is actually to increase our reliance on Boardman, keep the coal plant open at least until the year 2040, and build two new natural gas plants by 2015.

Oregon has some of the most progressive greenhouse emissions-reduction goals in the nation, and PGE’s plans are clearly at odds with state targets for cutting pollution. It’s safe to say PGE knew this, and it’s worth speculating whether that had something to do with why the company waited until late on the Friday before Labor Day Weekend to release its report; possibly they hoped this would decrease the odds of the press taking notice. If so, the strategy didn’t work: a pretty nice story about PGE’s draft plan made front-page headlines in the Oregonian Saturday morning. Oops.

The truth is, Oregon is perfectly positioned to become the first state in the country to sever its reliance on coal completely. Shutting down Boardman and replacing it with renewable energy would result in less than a 1/2 percent increase in consumer rates over the next 30 years. Meanwhile, keeping the plant open will require PGE to spend nearly $600 million of ratepayer money to pay for pollution controls that do nothing to curb carbon dioxide pollution. Studies show the Northwest can meet 85% of new energy demand over the next twenty years through energy efficiency measures alone.

PGE won’t get away with these coal-tinted shenanigans. Anti-coal activists in Oregon already have some pretty cool projects in the works that will increase the pressure on PGE over the next several months, and highlight the ability of the Northwest to be a leader in renewable energy. The public has until October 5th to comment on PGE’s draft plan, and there are lots of opportunities coming up for citizens to let the company know coal is over. While its disappointing that PGE is trotting out 19th-century “solutions” to Oregon’s energy problems, this month’s draft report is not the final word.

The real lesson we learned this month is where PGE will stand as citizens and governments in the Northwest work to create a clean energy future for our region. We will make that future a reality, but PGE is going to drag its feet and kick and scream every step of the way.

At a time of great danger and immense opportunity, PGE has placed itself squarely on the wrong side of history. And those cute wind turbines on the MAX train just aren’t going to make up for that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You are woefully uninformed