Great OpEd in the Oregonian on Pacific Power and coal

March 25, 2014

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.


DALE R. JONES (1939-2014)

March 21, 2014

Dale Jones, an influential environmental leader with the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth in the northwest during the 60’s through the 80’s, passed away in Washington, DC in late January of heart failure. Raised in Holland, Michigan, he attended the University of Arizona on a tennis scholarship before being drafted into the U.S. Army. After duty in Vietnam he supervised the movement of war materials during the Cuban missile crisis to Florida. Later, he was stationed at Fort Lewis where he developed his love for the Northwest.

Upon discharge, Dale settled down in Seattle, worked for Westinghouse and developed his love of the Northwest and the need to conserve its resources. He joined the Mountaineers building their film and photo collection. Then he joined the campaign to save the North Cascades from the loggers’ chainsaws and the board of the North Cascades Conservation Council from 1969 to 1990. Dale also became increasingly active with the old Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Sierra Club. From 1969-70, he was the editor of the “Conifer” – the chapter’s newsletter.

His involvement with the Sierra Club brought him in contact with executive director, David Brower. When Brower left the Club and founded Friends of Earth (FOE) he asked Dale to establish the NW office in Seattle. In that position he became a leading spokesman on the northwest conservation issues of the time including endangered species, energy conservation, hunting rights for Natives in Alaska, and opposing DDT spraying in northwest forests. In 1970, FOE led the opposition to congressional funding of a supersonic transport airplane by Boeing due to concerns with high-level ozone pollution and noise. In keeping with his unique tactical approach, Dale would meet out of town reporters at the airport and take them to their meetings with Boeing officials, thereby ensuring that national reporters heard the environmentalist’s message last.

In 1973, Dale was honored by the Oregon Environmental Council with a special commendation for his work in environmental and conservation issues especially the addition of the Minam River Canyon to the Eagle Cap Wilderness. Dale also received the Washington Ecological Commission’s Environmental Excellence Award, a statewide recognition presented by Governor Booth Gardner for his outstanding work in environmental protection.

Overall, Dale is remembered by his friends and colleagues for his unfailing optimism, good cheer, sense of humor and his endless encouragement to fight on for the right causes regardless of their popularity. He established a base of support for the environmental cause in the northwest. We owe a debt of gratitude to Dale for the beauty that remains. He is survived by his wife, Rachel Evans of Washington, DC.


Elliott State Forest Faces Privatization

March 14, 2014

The State Land Board is accepting bids on three parcels of the Elliott State Forest. Oregon’s first state-owned forest provides recreation opportunity, wildlife habitat, and revenue for the Common School Fund. Privatizing any public forestland–even the  sale of a few parcels–sets a dangerous precedent that could lead to even more sales of state lands in the future.

Part of what makes Oregon spectacular is the abundant, beautiful landscapes that are accessible to the public. Moreover, some of the parcels that are up for bid include old growth forest structure that provides habitat for endangered species like marbled murrelets. Logging would destroy or severely disrupt this habitat. Other parts of the Elliott are home to coho salmon and spotted owls.

Elliott

Oregon’s public lands and school children are among our most valuable resources. We need to protect both. Tell the State Land Board to keep Oregon’s forests in public ownership!


Some good, some not-so-good in the 2014 session of the Oregon Legislature

March 12, 2014

state capitolWe can all breathe a sigh of relief now, as the 2014 “short session” of the Oregon Legislature wrapped up on Friday, March 7.  The frantic pace of the short session – with its tight deadlines and quick turnaround times – was a real eye-opener for us and made it even harder than usual to keep up with everything that was happening.  As an example, on one day in the first week of the session, we had four bills up for a hearing in three different committees at the same time!

At any rate, it’s safe to say the outcome of the session was a mixed bag, without a significant amount of either progress or setbacks.  Here’s a quick summary of what happened to some of the bills we were tracking:

  • We had a minor loss on Senate Bill 1510, which would have created a process for a more coordinated and comprehensive environmental review of large projects in Oregon by essentially implementing a state-level version of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  While the bill did not make it out of committee, there is still likely to be an interim workgroup to work on the issue and report back to the 2015 Oregon Legislature.
  • One nice victory was Senate Bill 1516, which establishes a planning process for turning an old railroad corridor between Banks and Tillamook into a “Salmonberry Trail.”  Since we are active members of the North Coast State Forest Coalition, we are enthusiastic about such a trail and strongly supported SB 1516.  It passed the Legislature and now awaits the Governor’s signature.
  • In sad news, Senate Bill 1569 failed to move.  This bill would have begun the process of phasing out certain toxic chemicals from children’s toys sold in Oregon.  Unfortunately the bill was first scaled back to just require the creation of a list of chemicals of concern and require manufacturers to notify Oregon public health officials when their children’s products contain these chemicals.  Then, even that watered-down bill failed to make it out of the Ways and Means Committee, which was a major disappointment.  It’s hard to believe that a bill designed to keep toxic chemicals out of our kids’ toys cannot pass in Oregon, but these proposals will be back.
  • We had another minor victory in the stalling of Senate Joint Memorial 201, which was merely a statement from the Legislature to the U.S. Congress and to the Administration that reforms are necessary on Oregon’s “O&C Lands”.  While such a measure is essentially meaningless, we believed the language of the memorial was heavily slanted toward timber production on our backyard forests and neglected the important functions the O&C Lands provide for recreation, tourism, and clean water.  And fundamentally, decisions about O&C Lands are simply outside the purview of the Oregon Legislature.  We opposed SJM 201 in its original committee hearing and it was sent to the Senate Rules Committee, where it remained at adjournment.
  • Another important win was the passage of House Bill 4126 – a critical bill to help defend Oregon’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS).  A very destructive ballot measure had been proposed for 2014 ballot to incorporate large-scale hydroelectric power into the RPS, which would have rendered the RPS essentially meaningless and dramatically undercut the development of real renewable power in the state.  HB 4126 was the result of a settlement between many parties to the debate over the hydro ballot measure and its passage removes the specter of that ballot measure.  The settlement was not perfect, but we supported it as a way to make the ballot measure go away.  It passed both houses essentially unanimously and is now with the Governor.
  • House Bill 4042 extended net metering to wave energy in Oregon.  While wave energy technology is still in its infancy in Oregon, we believe that it could offer another viable source of renewable energy for our state.  Since net metering is a well-established mechanism to help facilitate the distributed generation of power, we supported HB 4042, which passed both houses without objection and was signed by the Governor on March 6.
  • We were disappointed in the Legislature’s failure to move House Bill 4100.  That bill would have required labels for products containing genetically engineered (GE) ingredients and would have created a legislative referral to allow Oregon citizens to sign off on that proposition in the November 2014 election.  We have concerns about the potential impacts of GE foods on our environment and on public health, but also fundamentally believe that this is a right-to-know issue that will allow consumers to make informed choices about the products they purchase.  The bill was still sitting in the House Rules Committee at adjournment, but there will very likely be a similar initiative measure on the ballot in November 2014 anyway.
  • Finally, we were pleased to see the demise of House Bill 4113 – the bill to move forward on the Oregon-only funding approach for the Columbia River Crossing (CRC).  While we did have some concerns about potential environmental impacts of the current version of the CRC, we also opposed HB 4113 because we believe the project is simply fiscally irresponsible as it is currently proposed. Notwithstanding the tremendous amount of political momentum behind the bill, the opposition was even greater and the legislation never really got moving.

So all in all, things could have been a lot better in the 2014 session, and they certainly could have been worse.  Now, with this session barely in our rearview mirror, we will begin the process of determining our priorities for the 2015 full-length session!  It’ll be an exciting year, so stay tuned.


State Forest Conservation Area Open Houses!

March 10, 2014

The Department of Forestry is marking the implementation of High Value Conservation Areas with a series of open houses. These events are to celebrate and understand this classification and to explore the areas themselves. There will be self-guided tours, Google Earth maps, and ODF staff to answer questions.

These are great opportunities to pack the room and show support for Conservation Areas on State Forest lands. Make clear to the Department of Forestry that we value these areas and want them to stay!

  • March 17: 6:00 – 8:00 pm, Forest Grove ODF District Office, 801 Gales Creek Rd, Forest Grove
  • March 20: 6:00 – 8:00 pm, Astoria ODF District Office, 92219 HWY 202, Astoria
  • March 22: 10:00 am – Noon, Tillamook ODF District Office, 5005 3rd St, Tillamook

IMG_0611


Last Chance to Get Paid to Go Solar!

February 18, 2014


Oregon’s Solar Incentive Program is coming to an end soon!

The popular Oregon Solar Incentive Program (OSIP) has one last application period coming up on April 1, 2014. Sign up now for a free consultation, or read more about the program below.

The Oregon Solar Incentive Payment program (also known as the Feed in Tariff) has been a huge driver to the success of Sierra Club’s “Go Solar+” program.

In contrast to standard net metering, the Solar Payment program actually pays the owner a premium rate for the solar power they produce for 15 years.

Depending on which county the property is in, the rate varies from $.252/kW-Hr to $.39/kW-Hr. Factoring in the up-front cost of the system, a 30% Federal Tax Credit, and the monthly energy savings and payments generated, most solar projects break even in 5 – 7 years. Great news for you, and our planet!

April 1st is the deadline for the next round of Solar Payment applications in Oregon. Click here to request a free home evaluation and learn more about Oregon’s Solar Payment Program!

Are you eligible?
• You must be a Pacific Power or PGE customer in the state of Oregon to qualify
• Systems must be 5kW or greater in size
• Must be new equipment installed by an Energy Trust Trade Ally partner
• System must be sized to produce 90% or less of your annual usage
• One system may be installed for each meter on the property
• Capacity reservations are allocated via a lottery on April 1, 2014

Please join us and become part of the clean energy solution.  Click here to request a free home evaluation and learn more about Oregon’s Solar Payment Program!


2014 Legislative Update

February 15, 2014
Oregon capitol

Nope, the flowers aren’t blooming yet. But we’re already dreaming of spring and the end of the 2014 legislative session!

The 2014 “short session” of the Oregon Legislative Session is two weeks in, and Sierra Club staff and volunteers are closely tracking and testifying on numerous bills. The frantic pace of the short session – with its tight deadlines and quick turnaround times – makes it even harder than usual to keep up with everything that’s happening, but we’re doing our best.

Thursday, February 13, was the deadline for most bills to have made it out of their committees of origin. Sadly, some bills we were supporting have fallen by the wayside, but on the bright side, many really terrible bills also did! Here are some of the bills we’ve been working on:

  • Senate Bill 1510 would have created a process for a more coordinated and comprehensive environmental review of large projects in Oregon by essentially implementing a state-level version of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  While the bill did not make it out of committee, there is still likely to be an interim workgroup to work on the issue and report back to the 2015 Oregon Legislature.
  • Senate Bill 1516 would establish a planning process for turning an old railroad corridor between Banks and Tillamook into a “Salmonberry Trail.” Since we are active members of the North Coast State Forest Coalition, we are enthusiastic about such a trail and strongly support SB 1516.  It has passed out of the Senate Rural Communities Committee and is now being evaluated in the Ways and Means Committee.
  • Senate Bill 1569 would have begun the process of phasing out certain toxic chemicals from children’s toys sold in Oregon. Unfortunately the bill has now been scaled back to just require the creation of a list of chemicals of concern and require manufacturers to notify Oregon public health officials when their children’s products contain these chemicals. While we would have preferred a stronger bill, we believe this bill is a good start and are pleased that it has passed out of the Senate Health Care Committee and gone to Ways and Means.
  • Senate Joint Memorial 201 is merely a statement from the Legislature to the U.S. Congress and to the Administration that reforms are necessary on Oregon’s “O&C Lands”.  While such a measure is essentially meaningless, we believe the language of the memorial is heavily slanted toward timber production on our backyard forests and neglects the important functions the O&C Lands provide for recreation, tourism, and clean water. And fundamentally, decisions about O&C Lands are simply outside the purview of the Oregon Legislature. We opposed SJM 201 in its original committee and it was sent to the Senate Rules Committee just before the bill deadline. We will continue to closely track its progress.
  • House Bill 4126 is an important bill to help defend Oregon’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). A very destructive ballot measure had been proposed for 2014 ballot to incorporate large-scale hydroelectric power into the RPS, which would have been rendered the RPS essentially meaningless and dramatically undercut the development of real renewable power in the state. HB 4126 was the result of a settlement between many parties to the debate over the hydro ballot measure and when it passes, it will remove the specter of that ballot measure. The settlement is not perfect, but we are supporting it as a way to make the ballot measure go away. HB 4126 has passed the House unanimously and is now headed to the Senate.
  • House Bill 4042 would extend net metering to wave energy in Oregon. While wave energy technology is still in its infancy in Oregon, we believe that if could offer another viable source of renewable energy for our state. Since net metering is a well-established mechanism to help facilitate the distributed generation of power, we support HB 4042, which has passed the House and gone to the Senate.
  • House Bill 4100 would require labels for products containing genetically engineered (GE) ingredients and would create a legislative referral to allow Oregon citizens to sign off on that proposition in the November 2014 election. We have concerns about the potential impacts of GE foods on our environment and on public health, but this is also fundamentally a right-to-know bill that will allow consumers to make informed choices about the products they purchase. It’s still sitting in the House Rules Committee awaiting further action (Rules is one of the handful of committees that weren’t bound by the February 13 deadline).
  • House Bill 4113 is the bill to move forward on the Oregon-only funding approach for the Columbia River Crossing (CRC). And while we do have some concerns about potential environmental impacts of the current version of the CRC, we are also opposing HB 4113 because we believe the project is simply fiscally irresponsible as it is currently proposed. However, there’s a tremendous amount of political momentum behind the bill (and no shortage of vehement opposition!), and it has passed out of its original committee and is headed to Ways and Means.

Things are continuing to move at a furious pace in the Capitol. We’ll try to stay on top of it all and make sure Oregon’s environment doesn’t bear the brunt of the frenetic doings of the short session. Stay tuned!


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