Coal to Clean, NOT Coal to Gas

June 12, 2017

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


Working to Make Oregon’s Clean Energy Power Grid a Reality

April 12, 2017

Portland General Electric wants to build new fracked gas power plwind-and-solar_largeants which will lock us into decades of climate wrecking fossil fuel pollution.

PGE’s own analysis shows that our future energy needs can be reliably and affordably met with clean renewable energy which will create hundreds of new green energy jobs for our region.

There are 2 ways you can help us to create a landslide of comments to the Oregon Public Utility Commission

Download a comment card toolkit and gather comment cards from your neighbors and friends.

and

Send an email to your circle of contacts inviting them to use the Sierra Club’s website to submit an email comment.

 

Save the Date:

We just got news that the Oregon Public Utility Commission is going to hold a public hearing on PGE’s energy plan on the evening of Monday May 15th at the Portland Building.  The time is TBD, but very likely in the evening.  

They are holding this hearing specifically so that they can hear the public’s testimony. 

Please save the date and keep an eye out for details & ways that you can help make this a success!  

Keep the Frack Out: Clean Energy for Oregon! 

Thanks for all you do.

Contact Gregory Monahan at gregory.monahan@oregon.sierraclub.org if you need any help or have any questions


Update: Six weeks into the 2017 Oregon Legislative session

March 22, 2017

By Rhett Lawrence, Conservation Director

As predicted in last month’s legislative preview, it’s been a challenging session in the 2017 Oregon Legislature. After several sessions with some real environmental accomplishments (but also partisan divisiveness), we knew we would have a hard slog in making much progress in 2017. So things have gone pretty much as expected so far, and here are some updates on a few of the issues we’re working on.

For the past several sessions, we have been a part of a coalition working to try to put a price on carbon in Oregon. We have gone through various iterations of “cap and trade” and “cap and delegate” bills and have had some good hearings and debates in the legislature. This year the Oregon Chapter’s top legislative priority has been to pass a “Clean Energy Jobs bill.” Right now, the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee and the House Energy and Environment Committee are jointly looking at what might be the best solution for Oregon to create clean energy jobs and hold polluters accountable. The primary contenders so far are Senate Bill 557 and Senate Bill 748, and the committees are holding weekly workgroup meetings to investigate the policies reflected in those bills. You can help move them forward by contacting your legislator and tell them it’s time to act on greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon.

Another climate policy we’ve been spending some time on is an idea called the “Climate Test.” In essence, it is a scaled-down version of a State Environmental Policy Act that would apply to fossil fuel infrastructure projects in Oregon. Like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), it would require cross-agency communications to consider the impacts of proposed fossil fuel infrastructure projects. Such proposed projects would also be subject to an environmental impact statement (EIS) with full lifecycle accounting of the project’s greenhouse gas emissions, coupled with an economic analysis that will show whether a project is viable in a world where climate goals are met. We have bills in both chambers – House Bill 3343 and Senate Bill 1007 – and we hope to be having a hearing on them in early April.

Our other top priority, along with the Clean Energy Jobs bill, will be to pass legislation that can help to solve the ongoing conundrum with the Elliott State Forest. As many of you know, the Elliott has been the subject of much debate recently, as the State Land Board tries to dispose of it in order to satisfy its obligations to the Common School Fund. Senate Bill 847 – a Trust Lands Transfer bill similar to what we worked on in the 2015 session – could be a part of that solution. That bill had its first hearing on March 20 and we are hopeful that it will move forward.

We are also working on a package of bills to address the critical issue of oil trains in our state. House Bill 2131 will help to improve safety and cleanup standards for the trains that are coming through Oregon. House Bill 3344 will make it more difficult to site oil train terminals here. Both bills had their initial public hearings in mid-March and we are awaiting further action on them soon.

A bill to limit the impacts of suction dredge mining on our state’s waters is making progress in the legislature. Senate Bill 3 is moving through the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee now and we are confident that it will have real benefits to salmon habitat in Oregon.

Another bill of interest is House Bill 2711, which would impose a 10-year moratorium on oil and gas fracking in Oregon. There is currently no fracking happening in Oregon and we’d like to keep it that way, so we’re pushing to move that bill forward in the House Energy and Environment committee.

Finally, on proactive legislation, we are supporting Senate Bill 1008, which will create more stringent standards for diesel emissions in Oregon. The bill had a public hearing in early March and we are monitoring its progress closely. In addition to getting dirty diesel out of our air, it will also pave the way for Oregon to receive $68 million in Volkswagen settlement money to fund clean air work in our state.

One bright note from the session is that we have had to play less defense and fight off fewer bad bills than we often have to do. There have been attempts to roll back public lands protections and to take aim at wolves and cougars. But for the most part, the same dynamic that is keeping some “controversial” bills that we like from getting much traction is also keeping the bad bills at bay!

So, as expected, the 2017 session has had both hazards and opportunities, and we’re trying to make the best of the latter while avoiding the former to the extent we can. As always, our success depends largely on you, so keep calling, writing, and e-mailing your legislators and making a difference for Oregon!


Working to Make Oregon’s Clean Energy Power Grid a Reality

March 21, 2017

Portland General Electric wants to build new fracked gas power plwind-and-solar_largeants which will lock us into decades of climate wrecking fossil fuel pollution.

PGE’s own analysis shows that our future energy needs can be reliably and affordably met with clean renewable energy which will create hundreds of new green energy jobs for our region.

There are 2 ways you can help us to create a landslide of comments to the Oregon Public Utility Commission

Download a comment card toolkit and gather comment cards from your neighbors and friends.

and

Send an email to your circle of contacts inviting them to use the Sierra Club’s website to submit an email comment.

Thanks for all you do.

Contact Gregory Monahan at gregory.monahan@oregon.sierraclub.org if you need any help or have any questions


Electricity From Clean Renewable Energy Sources

February 16, 2017

Portland General Electric (PGE) wants to build 2 new gas fired electrical power plants next door to the Boardman Coal Plant. If allowed to go forward these plants would lock us into another 40 years of emissions from fracked gas and destroy our chance to move to a clean energy future.

210 kW PV system at SMUD's Hedge substation that is used for grid support

Last year Portland General Electric (PGE) came to the table to help pass the groundbreaking Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Act. They committed to sunset their coal use in Oregon and double their clean energy commitments.

Now, less than a year later, PGE has already violated the spirit of our partnership by proposing huge investments in fossil fuel infrastructure. Building new gas-fired power plants will lock Oregon into decades of climate-disrupting fossil fuel energy at a moment when clean energy sources like wind and solar are more affordable than ever. This is the wrong path for our state, and a disappointing step backward from Oregon’s largest utility.

Oregon doesn’t need more fossil fuel powered electricity. PGE’s own analysis concluded that it can meet customers’ power needs reliably and affordably by investing in renewable energy rather than dirty fossil fuels. Plus, the science is clear: from extraction to production to consumption, gas is a dirty fuel that produces significant amounts of pollution.

The Sierra Club is working with a broad coalition of groups to stop Portland General Electric’s plan to build two new gas-fired power plants next door to their Boardman coal plant.

Like all of our campaigns, our strength comes from the bottom up.  So we need people like you get informed and organize our community to stand up to PGE and say “no” to new fossil fuels.  They have financial and political power, so we must have organized people power.  

Join us to learn about our shared campaign to get PGE to break their addiction to fossil fuels.

There is widespread public support for moving away from expanding fossil fuel use and towards clean, renewable energy. People recognize that the only way to lesson the worst impacts of climate change to start NOW, with no more new fossil fuels added to our energy supplies.

For more information Contact:
Gregory Monahan
Chair, Beyond Gas & Oil Team
at: gregory.monahan@oregon.sierraclub.org


PGE Tests Biomass at Boardman Coal Plant – New Report Highlights Climate and Forest Consequences for Country’s Largest Biomass Proposal

December 20, 2016

On December 7th, 2016, we released a report analyzing a proposal from Portland General Electric (PGE) to convert the state’s last coal plant in Boardman, Oregon into one of the world’s largest biomass facilities. The report finds that the proposal may pose major implications for air quality, forest health, and carbon reduction goals. The Boardman Power Plant in northern Oregon is slated to retire in 2020. However, this month, staff are testing the plant’s capacity to run on woody material and energy crops. If the test succeeds, the Boardman plant could be converted to run on 100 percent forest biomass for 5 months of the year.

The new report demonstrates the likely implications if the conversion is made. Key findings include:

 An average biomass power facility emits 40-60% more carbon than coal plants do per megawatt hour of energy generated.

 Over 3.8 million tons of trees and woody material would be needed to operate the plant for 5 months a year. Despite claims by biomass advocates, waste feedstock levels are negligible when compared to the facility’s needs. Therefore, whole trees from public lands would constitute the majority of the feedstock needed.

 Over 800 trucks a day would be required to supply the Boardman facility during peak operation.

 PGE is growing a highly invasive species of giant cane as a feedstock. Arundo Donax causes major damage to ecosystems and watersheds and is opposed as a viable energy solution by dozens of environmental grboardman_coaloups.

“The retirement of the Boardman facility creates an opportunity to replace coal with clean energy like wind and solar, which would be in keeping with the landmark coal transition legislation passed in Oregon earlier this year,” said Rhett Lawrence, legislative director for the Oregon Sierra Club. “There is simply no need to turn our forests into fuel because cleaner energy alternatives are already at hand.”

 

Even though the carbon consequences of biomass are well established, Congress is currently considering legislation that would designate biomass energy as “carbon-neutral.” Just as oil, coal, and gas must be kept in the ground, if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change, so too must trees be kept in the forest.


Union Pacific Rail Double Track Project through Mosier, OR Denied

November 14, 2016

At their Nov 10th meeting Wasco County Board of Commissioners voted 3-0 to finalize their Nov, 3rd decision to deny the permit for Union Pacific’s proposed rail expansion. To read more about the decision

http://gorgenewscenter.com/wasco-county-commissioners-complete-their-denial-of-union-pacific-plan-for-second-main-line-track-at-mosier/

Highlights from the Nov 3rd Wasco Board of Commissioners meeting:

Gary Kahn, an attorney representing Friends of the Columbia Gorge, Columbia Riverkeeper and Physicians for Social Responsibility presented the case that the project would violate the National Scenic Area Land Use Development Ordinance in many ways.

The testimony from the Tribal Nations was powerful and moving. Austin Greene, Warm Springs Tribal Chairman, drove from Warm Springs in order to testify. The Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation was represented by attorney Amber Penn-Roco, who spoked to the Yakama Nation opposition to this project and that it violated tribal treaty rights. She also read a letter from the tribal elders. Testimony was given from Lana Jack of Celilo Village, of the Wyam people. She spoke of the daily challenges and dangers her people face in crossing the railroad tracks.

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Source: KGW-TV screenshot

During the process, Wasco County Planning Director Angie Brewer reminded county officials of their duty to deny the permit unless they could reach a determination that tribal treaty rights were not impacted, citing the National Scenic Area Land Use Development Ordinance. In the end, The Wasco County Board of Commissioners stood up to the Union Pacific Railroad, and voted unanimously to oppose the project. We all owe them a debt of gratitude.

In all likelihood, Union Pacific is going to appeal this decision to the Columbia River Gorge Commission.

Contact Gregory Monahan, Chair of the Beyond Gas and Oil Team, if you would like more information or if you would like to volunteer at gregory.monahan@oregon.sierraclub.org