Great OpEd in the Oregonian on Pacific Power and coal

Amy Hojnowski, Sierra Club senior campaign representative on the Beyond Coal Campaign, had a great OpEd published in the Oregonian recently. Can you write a Letter to the Editor to the Oregonian telling Pacific Power it’s time to get off dirty coal? Some sample talking points and instructions for submitting an LTE are below Amy’s OpEd.

http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2014/03/pacificorp_is_making_oregonian.html

PacifiCorp is making Oregonians invest in coal plants: Guest opinion

March 20, 2014 at 2:10 PM, updated March 20, 2014 at 2:12 PM

colstrip

The Colstrip power plant is the second largest coal-fired plant west of the Mississippi. PacifiCorp is among its owners.

By Amy Hojnowski

Most Oregonians have seen their electricity bills increase over the past several years, but those who get their electricity from Pacific Power have seen their bills skyrocket. On Monday, the Oregon Public Utilities Commission (OPUC) took this issue head-on during a final hearing on the long-term energy mix of PacifiCorp, which operates as Pacific Power in Oregon.

For over a year, the commission has scolded and pushed PacifiCorp to better protect its customers from unnecessary rate increases. The commission has reason to be concerned: Pacific Power raised its rates more than any other major utility in the region. An analysis of reports from the Edison Electric Institute shows that Oregon Pacific Power has increased customers’ rates by 61 percent since 2006, the year after Warren Buffet bought the utility.

What may surprise Oregon customers is that last year PacifiCorp got 78 percent of its electricity from polluting coal plants. A further surprise is that PacifiCorp has busily spent over $2 billion on those aging coal plants, mostly on things no one is requiring them to do. And they expect to spend another $2 billion on the plants in Utah and Wyoming. Oregon customers are on the hook for 25 percent of that spending.

Why is PacifiCorp spending Oregonians’ dollars on coal plants in other states? It’s pretty simple: Utilities make a lot of money on capital expenditures that pay a fat, steady rate of return. So, instead of giving Oregon commissioners an opportunity to figure out if it was a better deal for customers to put the aging coal plants on a retirement schedule and move to cleaner sources of energy, PacifiCorp went ahead with its plans.

The upshot of all of this is that PacifiCorp is committing Oregon customers to aging coal plants by spending more money on them, reaping a nearly guaranteed rate of return on the spending, and shipping the profits to owner Warren Buffett, of Berkshire Hathaway fame, who reported a record $19 billion in profits last year.

Buffett’s company didn’t have to pour Oregon money into risky coal plants; other utilities in the West, including two others owned by Buffett, are moving away from expensive coal plants that require pollution controls and upgrades to continue operating, and toward affordable solar and wind power that lock in stable electricity rates for the long-term. For example, utility regulators in New Mexico recently approved Xcel Energy’s plan to purchase close to 700 megawatts of wind energy, saving its customers an estimated $590 million in fuel costs over 20 years.

Now, the OPUC is shining a bright light on PacifiCorp’s “spend first and ask later” approach. PacifiCorp has fought mightily to keep regulators, and by extension its customers, from knowing the full risks and costs of relying on coal. At the final hearing on Monday, the commissioners vigorously questioned PacifiCorp’s transparency, with Commissioner John Savage saying: “We really don’t want any more surprises in terms of already-launched construction.”

If PacifiCorp changes its long-term energy plan to include less coal and more clean energy, it’ll be good news for Oregon customers’ pocketbooks and for our economy. Oregon ranks fifth in the nation for total wind energy installation and has more than 122 solar companies working here, but PacifiCorp’s long-term energy plan does not include any investments in new clean energy technologies like wind and solar projects for 10 more years. PacifiCorp should invest in our clean energy economy at home instead of sending our money out-of-state to pay for dirty coal plants.

Oregonians can’t afford business as usual from Pacific Power. The OPUC rightly held the company’s feet to the fire on Monday. Now we can only hope that Warren Buffett and the rest of his team will do right by their customers and put coal in our rear-view mirror.

Amy Hojnowski, of Portland, is the senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign.

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Can you write a Letter to the Editor of the Oregonian?

If you’d be willing to submit an LTE to the Oregonian, we would really appreciate it, and it would be an effective way to get the attention of PacifiCorp and decisionmakers. Some sample talking points are below, but the best idea is to write something in your own words. The Oregonian restricts LTEs to 150 words, so try to keep your letter concise. Once you have composed your letter, copy and paste it into an e-mail to letters@oregonian.com (do not send it as an attachment – they won’t open it). You should also include your full address and daytime phone number, for verification purposes.

Here are some basic themes to consider for your letter:

• Show support of the PUC for their dogged criticism of the company’s coal analysis.
• Express concern over the highest rate increases in the region because of their dependence on out of state coal.
• Show support for retiring coal plants, moving away from dirty coal, creating a coal free Oregon, and transitioning to clean renewable energy like wind and solar that create jobs here at home.

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