Oregon Senate amends anti-coal power bill

Source: By Ian Kullgren, Portland Oregonian • Posted: Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Oregon lawmakers yesterday amended one of the state’s most far-reaching pieces of environmental legislation in decades in an attempt to give state regulators more oversight and to rid coal from Oregon’s energy supply.

H.B. 4036, approved by the Senate’s business and labor committee, would give the Oregon Public Utility Commission, which regulates the state’s two major public utilities, authority to manage costs incurred from shifting toward renewable energy.

The bill would allow ratepayers to stop paying for power produced at out-of-state coal-fired plants by 2030 and would mandate that utilities meet 50 percent of their clients’ energy demand with renewable power from wind or solar by 2040.

The cost of new infrastructure would be included in ratepayers’ bills and would be paid off over a certain period of time. If utilities do not follow a repayment plan that’s cost-effective for consumers, the bill would allow the commission to cut off those ratepayers’ subsidies, potentially leaving huge costs for utilities.

Utilities negotiated the bill with environmentalists after accusations that Gov. Kate Brown’s (D) office cut commissioners out of talks. Commissioners are concerned the plan would be expensive and not effective at cutting greenhouse gases.

Susan Ackerman, the utility commission chairwoman, voiced concern over the bill but vehemently disputed reports that the commission was cut out.

“That is simply not the case,” she said.

The House had approved the bill 39-20, and if the amended draft passes the Senate, it will return to the House for an additional vote.