Coal to Clean, NOT Coal to Gas

Early this year, the Oregon Chapter’s Beyond Gas and Oil Campaign and the Beyond Coal Oregon Campaign recognized that they both wanted the same thing:

  • In general to stop the spread of natural gas usage
  • In particular, to block PGE’s plan to go From Coal to Gas instead of Coal to Clean
  • We also recognized that this was an opportunity to push FOR what we WANT, A Clean Energy Future,  as well as AGAINST what we DON”T WANT, A  Dirty Fossil Fuel Future.
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Laura Stevens, Sierra Club Beyond Coal, Organizer speaks at the rally before the May 15th hearing held in Portland by the Public Utility Commission (PUC). Banner made by volunteer members of the Oregon Chapter’s Clean Energy Task Force. Photo Credit: Colin McLean

The Beyond Coal Campaign has spent  years of setting expectations of replacing the Boardman coal plant with clean energy, including in our work together with allies to pass the historic Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Act last year. Portland General Electric (PGE) instead proposed to replace the retiring Boardman coal plant with a total of 1300 MW of fracked gas. Back in November they filed a very flawed Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) with the Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) that tipped the scales entirely towards more self-built gas resources to replace Boardman – for a total of 3 units at the Carty Generating Station right next to the Boardman Coal Plant. In a parallel process they also began to pursue all the required permits for the two new units including requests to increase their emissions limits at the first existing unit.

Adopting the latest strategy for developing effective campaigns, the Sierra Club recruited a strong network of groups to work on developing a shared strategy to significantly increase the public pressure on the company and the agencies in charge of the various approval processes. Over 15 different local groups came together to form the Carty Gas Working Group and began meeting weekly. It turned out that we had a very compelling ask: Do you want a Clean Energy Future?

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Students lead the way to a Fossil Fuel Free Energy Future, after the rally, activists marched to the PUC public hearing from the nearby park. Photo Credit: Colin McClean

In March we submitted a record 7,000 comments to the Energy Facilities Siting Council (EFSC) opposing the permits required to expand the Carty gas plant. On May 15th we broke another record submitting 10,000 public comments to the PUC directing them to reject any plans for new fossil fuel infrastructure and to do what they could to facilitate a faster transition to 100% clean and renewable energy.

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Volunteers from the broad coalition of groups who helped gather of 17,000 comments (7,000 to EFSEC and 10,000 to the PUC pose with the boxes that were presented to the PUC at the May 15th public hearing. Each box represents 1,000 comments. Photo Credit: Colin McClean

In March we submitted a record 7,000 comments to the Energy Facilities Siting Council (EFSC) opposing the permits required to expand the Carty gas plant. On May 15th we broke another record submitting 10,000 public comments to the PUC directing them to reject any plans for new fossil fuel infrastructure and to do what they could to facilitate a faster transition to 100% clean and renewable energy.

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Volunteers deliver comment cards to the PUC while students deliver testimony reminding  the commissioners that they will inherit the future created by the decisions made in the present. Photo Credit: Gregory Monahan

The Sierra Club is also an intervener in PGE’s  IRP docket at the PUC and on May31st, we submitted our final technical comments making the strong case that

  • the company has not justified any long term capital investments and
  • they did not adequately assess the risks associated with building new fossil infrastructure or
  • the many alternate options on the market including deeper energy efficiency savings as well as other short term market contracts that help satisfy the near term need.

The Sierra Club’s final recommendations concluded that “ratepayers may be better served with a short-term contract now so that they can pursue lower cost options in the mid to long term. A long-term resource decision made now to fulfill a 2021 capacity need could foreclose future, lower cost options—such as wind near the Colstrip site.”

The staff at the PUC also submitted their final reply comments into the docket and they were scathing in their critique of the company’s process as well as their conclusions. The commission staff ultimately determined “we cannot conclude anything other than that key parts of the plan do not fully consider or adequately plan for the significant changes that are expected in the electricity industry over the next five to ten years” and “staff recommends the Commission not acknowledge PGE’s Action Plan item to issue an RFP for dispatchable capacity between 375 – 550 MW.” While this is great progress the staff did leave open the possibility for the need for dispatchable capacity in the near future as well as an IRP Update which may include one or both of the gas units or may instead include purchasing an existing gas plant to serve Oregon.

PGE also submitted letters to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and to the Oregon Department of Energy (ODOE) asking them to suspend any further process to approve their pending permits for expanding the Carty Generating Station. These suspensions are not equivalent to permanently withdrawing their intentions to move forward with these plants and the permit processes can be restarted at any time. Some consider this move a calculated public relations strategy attempting to derail the momentum and enthusiasm for our campaign days before our much anticipated public hearing. If that was the intention it was not successful.

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Over 100 members of the public lined up to speak to a packed hearing chamber in the PUC public hearing on May 15th. Photo Credit: Colin McClean.

On Monday May 15th, the PUC held a special public meeting in Portland at our request to give ratepayers a needed voice in these often very wonky proceedings. PGE and the standard array of stakeholders who are interveners in the docket were asked not to testify. This was an opportunity for PGE and the PUC to hear directly from ratepayers and the community at large. Together with our allies from the Carty Gas Campaign working group and our incredible teams of comment card collectors and phone-bank recruitment volunteers we held a rally before the hearing and then packed the hearing room with 260 people. 105 people had the opportunity to testify in near unanimous support for rejecting plans for any new gas serving PGE ratepayers as well as showing deep support for a full transition to 100% clean and renewable energy.  Messengers at the hearing included renewable industry groups and developers, a Building Trades rank and file member, high school student climate activists, the Mayor of Milwaukie, a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Chair of the Global Warming Commission of Oregon, a Unitarian Minister, a Zen Teacher, and many long time PGE ratepayers.


The fight to stop these gas plants is not over and we have a few more key decision points to manage in the PUC process, including the reply comments from PGE due in June and a final public hearing at the commission in early August. The commission will issue its final order on August 31. Our campaign hopes to see a positive resolution to the question of expanding Carty in that order and then we turn our sights to supporting all the other ways we can leverage the replacement of Boardman with clean and renewable energy.

An outgrowth of this campaign was the passage of 100% Renewable Energy Resolutions by Portland and Multnomah County which you can read about in a companion blog post.

This blog post was written by: Amy Hojnowski, Senior Campaign Representative, Beyond Coal Campaign, Sierra Club and Gregory Monahan, Chair, Beyond Gas & Oil Team, Oregon Sierra Club.

If you want to be a part of creating An Energy System Free From Fossil Fuels Closely coupled with: A Just Equitable Transition Where All Members of Society Have Their Voices Represented and Can Thrive Contact one of the following people:

Nakisha Nathan, Climate Justice Organizer, nakisha.nathan@sierraclub.org
Laura Stevens, Beyond Coal Organizer, laura.stevens@sierraclub.org
Gregory Monahan, Chair, Beyond Gas & Oil Team, gregory,monahan@oregon,sierraclub.org

See below a compilation of the best of news clips from the campaign as well as rally and public hearing photos. For archived livestream video of the hearing with testimony see here and for archived livestream video of the rally see here.

The Oregonian – Opinion: PGE faces critical choice on Boardman gas-plant

Portland Business Journal – Sierra Club: PGE ‘backsliding’ on renewables commitment

East Oregonian – Tribal members petition against Carty expansion

Portland Business Journal – PGE gas opponents hit state siting council with deluge of comments

Oregon Public Broadcasting – Climate Activists Tell PGE: Don’t Even Think About New Natural Gas Plants

Portland Business Journal  –Protest of Portland General Electric’s resource plan takes a fracking twist

Portland Tribune – PGE may opt against natural gas plants to replace coal plant in Eastern Oregon

AP – Portland Utility Suspends Effort on New Natural Gas Plants

Portland Business Journal  – Analysis: How an assault on natural gas upended PGE’s power plan

East Oregonian – Backlash against Carty gas plant in Boardman continues

The Oregonian – Ratepayers and activists insist PGE reject natural gas

One Response to Coal to Clean, NOT Coal to Gas

  1. […] Electric (PGE) from adding 2 new fracked gas powered plants to the Carty-Boardman site (read the blog post on that campaign ). That campaign was organized by first reaching out to partner groups and then developing a […]

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