Oregon governor signs bill to ramp up renewables, end coal use

Source: Debra Kahn, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, March 14, 2016

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) signed a bill Friday that raises the state’s renewable energy mandate to 50 percent and ends its reliance on coal-fired power.

Originally put forth by the state’s two largest utilities and a cadre of environmental groups, S.B. 1547 requires utilities — Pacific Power and Portland General Electric Co. — to exit out-of-state coal contracts by 2030. It also raises the state’s renewable portfolio standard to 50 percent by 2040 from the current target of 25 percent by 2025.

“Today, we are facing one of the most significant threats to OR’s economy, environment, and our very way of life — climate change,” Brown said on Twitter after signing the bill at an elementary school. “Future generations will judge the morality & leadership of this generation not by the fact of climate change, but by how we responded to it.”

Joining Hawaii, California and Vermont as states with an RPS of 50 percent or more, Oregon got nearly three-quarters of its electricity from hydropower and other renewables in 2014, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The state’s only coal-fired power plant, Boardman, is scheduled to close by the end of 2020.

The law also directs utilities to dramatically expand electric vehicle charging infrastructure with the goal of trying to sync the charging of electric cars with peak renewable power generation in a bid to maximize the development of both technologies (Greenwire, March 11).

Brown signed the bill a week after the state Senate passed the measure along party lines. It sped past objections earlier this month by Republican lawmakers and the state’s Public Utility Commission that it was too prescriptively worded and could raise costs for electricity customers (ClimateWire, March 3).

Environmental groups hailed the move as a counter to the Supreme Court’s decision last month to stay U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan for existing power plants.

“Approving the nation’s first legislation to fully transition away from coal-powered electricity just weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily delayed the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan to limit power plant pollution shows Oregon’s leadership in the fight against climate change,” said Noah Long, Western energy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

A group of environmental groups and businesses that had proposed ballot initiatives to achieve the same goals in the event the legislation failed announced that they would withdraw them. The initiatives were petitions 63, 64, 72 and 73.

“By transitioning off coal-fired power, we’re clearing the decks for a thriving clean energy economy in Oregon,” said Thomas Wheatley, campaign director for Renew Oregon. “That’s what we hoped to accomplish with our ballot measure.”