Oregon passes 50% renewables standard into law
- Gov. Kate Brown (D) signed state Senate Bill 1547 yesterday that boosts Oregon's renewable portfolio standard to 50% by 2040 and requires the state's two largest utilities to phase out coal generation imports by 2035, the Oregonian reports.
- The bill came under scrutiny during the legislative process over concerns that the bill will shift the costs to phase out coal and increase renewables integration onto ratepayers, as well as concerns that the legislative process shut out the Oregon Public Utilities Commission.
- The state's two biggest utilities paired up with environmental advocates to back the bill in an attempt to stave off a ballot measure this fall that would have required more aggressive measures to wean Oregon off coal-fired generation.
Oregon has joined a growing number of Western states backing more aggressive renewable portfolio standards as the state prepares to integrate more renewable energy onto its grid.
"Knowing how important it is to Oregonians to act on climate change, a wide range of stakeholders came to the table around Oregonians' investments in coal and renewable energy," Gov. Brown said in a statement. "Working together, they found a path to best equip our state with the energy resource mix of the future. Now, Oregon will be less reliant on fossil fuels and shift our focus to clean energy. I'm proud to sign a bill that moves Oregon forward, together with the shared values of current and future generations."
Under the law, the state's biggest utilities, Portland General Electric and Pacific Power (PacifiCorp's Oregon utility), will have eliminate coal imports by 2035 while meeting 50% of consumer demand with renewable energy, but exempts electric cooperatives and municipal utilities from having to do so.
The bill has lawmakers and industry officials in the state and in nearby states worried that the bill will not actually reduce carbon emissions.
NARUC President Travis Kavulla expressed those concerns to Utility Dive last month.
Kavulla criticized the legislation, noting that it "amazingly" does not include a requirement for the utilities to shut down their existing coal capacity, most of which is located out of state in Wyoming and Montana.
"Presumably those utilities will simply reallocate their coal plants to customers in other states or engage some swapping behavior so the conscience of Oregonians can be clear," Kavulla said, "but it's pretty clear that this bill won't actually reduce carbon emissions despite that being the ostensible purpose of it."
Opponents of SB 1547 argued throughout the legislative process that the bill would allow coal-fired plants to keep operating while Oregon would be served with expensive renewable energy. The bill's backers say EPA regulations will make the coal plants too expensive, which could result in shutdowns.
A key compromise in the bill was preserving a maximum 4% premium that investor-owned utilities can pay for mandate-compliant renewables, according to Pacific Power Spokesperson Ry Schwark. The cap is intended to protect consumers from unreasonable rate increases. The PUC can temporarily suspend the RPS if grid reliability is threatened.
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