Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Oregon Makes Historic Move Away From Coal

Today the Oregon Senate passed a bill, the Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Plan, which the Governor will surely sign (she was integral to its drafting) that makes us the first state to mandate a transition away from coal power. The Onymous Guy says thanks. Me too.

Oregon gets most of its power from hydro, but coal is the second largest source at about 33%. The Boardman Coal Plant is the only one in the state, and is slated to close in 2020, but that didn't mean we wouldn't import coal-generated power from out of state.

The NRDC writes (in an email):
The Oregon Legislature just voted today to eliminate coal generation [and ban its import, after 2030] from the state's future and committed its largest utilities to supply at least half of their electricity from renewable resources by 2040. Combined with Oregon's existing hydroelectric base, that means the state will be on track for an electricity system that's 70 to 90 percent carbon-free by that date. The legislation will make Oregon's energy among the cleanest in the country, and puts the state in the growing top tier of renewable energy standards, along with California, New York and Hawaii. 
More at the NRDC's blog.

The bill, The Clean Energy and Coal Transition Act, was somewhat controversial, because it passed in a short, 35-day legislative session and because it was written by the governor's office, the state's two largest utilities, and a collection of environmental groups and renewable energy advocates. The Oregonian's Editorial Board (OEB) -- which has become surprisingly conservative in recent years -- was vehementally against this bill from the outset, for one reason or another -- they said it was too complex to be adequately vetted in the short legislative session, was written by select groups with (they said) little transparency, that rates for consumers would rise, and because the governor declined to include the state's Public Utility Commission (PUC) in the negotiations (the OEB claims she told them to keep silent on the issue). Etc. For some reason they seem to like having coal around, and they often dismiss any action on climate change because, they say, nothing Oregon could contribute to solving the problem.

They especially hammered about the PUC after emails from a FOIA showed the PUC board not very happy about being shut out of the discussion. My view is that while the PUC certainly has energy expertise, (1) it's up to the governor, an elected official, to decide whom she wants creating a long-term energy plan she wants and supports, and (2) the PUC's job is to regulate existing tariffs with the utilities, not to determine long-term energy policy. Because that policy involves more than just keeping rates as low as possible -- it requires eliminating negative externalities, and coal has a truckload of them. Those externalities don't show up on consumer's monthly bills, but they cost money in health costs and premature deaths and environmental damage. (Here's a nice summary sheet from the EPA on the projected savings from Obama's Clean Action Plan -- "public health and climate benefits estimated at $55 billion to $93 billion per year in 2030, far outweighing the costs of $7.3 billion to $8.8 billion" -- and see this post I wrote the other day.

The Oregon's Editorial Board only saw costs, and not savings, and I think their opposition leaked into how their journalists covered this issue.

I would have liked more transparency from the negotiating groups, but passing significant legislation is never pretty, hence the analogy to making sausage. (Irrelveant side note: I once made sausage as kid, after my dad and a few other guys killed a pig behind someone's garage. They didn't let me see the killing, but I did spend the rest of the evening cranking a sausage grinding machine. Crafting legislation is probably less memorable.) Someone always complains they are left out, especially the people who don't like the principles and vision behind the bill is trying to promote. Has any significant bill not been muscled through the political process while the other side whines about it? Doubtful.

No comments: