Utility shuts down Ore.’s last coal plant

Source: By Miranda Willson, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, October 19, 2020

Oregon’s sole remaining coal-fired power plant shut down for good last week, 20 years ahead of schedule.

Portland General Electric Co. (PGE) closed the 575-megawatt Boardman power plant in eastern Oregon as part of an agreement with environmental and customer advocacy groups, the company said. Boardman emitted up to 2 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, according to PGE.

The plant’s closure will help the utility comply with clean energy goals in Oregon. Utilities must phase out coal-fired power for in-state customers by 2030 under Oregon law.

A mix of renewable resources will replace power from Boardman, including hydropower, said Steven Corson, spokesperson for PGE. The company is also developing energy storage facilities and has put out a request for proposals for additional carbon-free capacity, he said.

“Closing Boardman is one of many developments coming soon that will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions on our system,” Corson said in an email.

Boardman was one of a handful of coal-fired power plants remaining on the West Coast. Washington state’s Centralia power plant, owned by TransAlta Corp., is scheduled to close in 2025. The 63-MW Argus co-generation plant in San Bernardino County is California’s only coal-burning facility still in operation.

While PGE aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% of 1990 levels by 2050, the utility currently still gets power from Colstrip, a large coal plant in Montana. Two of Colstrip’s four generating units retired this year.

Boardman’s closure represents a positive turning point in Oregon’s energy system, made possible by the advocacy of activists and community members, said Cesia Kearns, deputy regional director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.

“This is certainly a landmark day in terms of Oregonian’s health and energy mix,” Kearns said. “It did take a chorus of voices to move PGE and regulators to this outcome.”

The Sierra Club was one of several groups that filed a lawsuit in 2008 against PGE for alleged Clean Air Act violations, she said. The parties reached a settlement in 2011 in which PGE agreed to close Boardman by 2020, according to the group. The plant was previously projected to last until at least 2040, Corson said.

Named after the surrounding community of about 3,400, Boardman entered into service in 1980. Some employees will continue working at the plant for the next year to prepare the facility for demolition in 2022, PGE said. Other employees will “retire, move to other positions with PGE, or leave the company,” the utility said.

Just south of Boardman, PGE and NextEra Energy Inc. are building a combined wind, solar and battery storage facility called Wheatridge. Once completed next year, it will be the first major renewable energy facility integrating wind and solar generation with battery storage at a single location, according to PGE.

“It is a hopeful turning point in Oregon’s energy system,” Kearns said.