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.

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


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.


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 (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.

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!

Governor issues draft 10-year energy plan – Comments Due July 31

July 12, 2012

In early June, Governor Kitzhaber unveiled a draft 10-year energy plan for the state of Oregon. The plan focuses on strategies geared at ensuring that Oregon will meet significant greenhouse gas reduction goals and strengthen our economy by moving away from fossil fuels, like coal. The Governor is taking comments on the plan until July 31, and three public meetings are being held to take testimony

Click here to send the Governor a letter asking for a strong 10-year plan to move Oregon beyond coal and towards a clean energy future!

If you can, please also attend one of the upcoming public meetings:

Wednesday, July 18th, 5:30pm-7:30pm
Oregon Institute of Technology (OIT), 3201 Campus Drive, College Union Auditorium,

Thursday, July 19th, 5:30pm-7:30pm; Location: Central Oregon Community College (COCC), 2600 NW College Way, Pioneer 201 Auditorium,

Friday, July 20th, 5:30-7:30pm
Location: Mt. Hood Community College (MHCC), 6000 SE Stark St., Visual Arts Theater (in back)

Key points to make in your public testimony and comments:

  • The plan should require all Oregon utilities to make major gains in phasing out coal power between now and 2020.
  • New energy needs over the next decade should be obtained with substantial increases in energy efficiency and conservation in homes, public buildings and commercial buildings; through the creation of ‘energy performance scores’ for buildings; and expansion of the Clean Energy Works weatherization program.
  • The plan should increase ‘distributed energy’ like rooftop solar across the state, and should include a large-scale, state-wide ‘feed-in tariff’ program to allow homeowners, small businesses, farmers, houses of worship, and local governments to be paid a fair rate by utilities for producing clean energy.
  • The plan should make Oregon’s greenhouse gas reduction goals legally binding to push all utilities to reduce coal use, and should also expand the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard to obtain 33% of the state’s energy from new renewable sources by 2025.
  • The plan should ensure that state and federal permits for the export of coal and liquefied natural gas (LNG) are not issued. If approved by state agencies, coal and LNG export could render irrelevant all of Oregon’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

You can submit your own comments on the plan by emailing or by clicking here.

In unveiling the draft 10-year energy plan, the Governor wrote:

Oregon has a track record of successfully pursuing clean energy policy, programs and practices to reduce energy use and promote renewable alternatives to fossil fuels. These public and private initiatives have made Oregon a national leader, but we continue to face a fundamental challenge –
that is, to develop a comprehensive energy strategy that meets the state’s carbon reduction, energy conservation and renewable energy goals and timetables, and that balances complex needs – including affordability and reliability – while enhancing Oregon’s economic objectives.

This 10-Year Energy Action Plan takes a practical approach to that challenge, focusing on specific initiatives that move the dial in the short term and can be scaled up over time. It is also an economic action plan, emphasizing priorities that can get Oregonians back to work on energy related projects in urban and rural communities across the state.

The Governor’s plan is an important opportunity to accelerate our region’s transition from a fossil fuel dependent energy and transportation system to a clean energy future. We encourage all Oregonians concerned about the growing harms from climate change and the need for urgency and decisive action to weigh in to help create a final plan that will result in decisive near term and long term actions.

You can email comments here until July 31 by clicking here.

And you can read both the plan and background materials here, as well as sign up for email updates.

We thank Governor Kitzhaber for bringing Oregonians together to focus on a 10-year energy plan for the state designed to significantly reduce reliance on fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas.

Kitzhaber Takes Strong Stand on Coal Exports!

April 27, 2012

Oregonians from across the state rally against coal exports at the State Land Board meeting in Salem on April 9, 2012. Photo by Gregory Sotir

This week, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber expressed ‘grave concerns,’ over the public health, economic and environmental impacts of proposed coal exports through Oregon and Washington in a speech before renewable energy advocates and business leaders.

The Governor further outlined major concerns over the issue in a detailed letter to the Army Corps of Engineers, Interior Department and Bureau of Land Management requesting a comprehensive federal review of impacts from proposals to mine and ship tens of millions of tons of coal through Oregon en route to Asia.

The Sierra Club issued the following statement:

“We applaud Governor Kitzhaber for calling on federal agencies to thoroughly assess the dangerous risks associated with dirty coal exports,” said Laura Stevens, local organizer for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. She added, “Oregonians from around the state have raised serious concerns about the health, safety, and economic consequences of coal exports for their communities. The Governor has heard them loud and clear and is echoing their call for a comprehensive review.”

The letter from the Governor comes in the midst of elevated public interest and mounting opposition to dirty coal export plans proposed for the region, including strong letters to the Army Corps of Engineers from the federal Environmental Protection Agency and Washington Department of Natural Resources.

“The Governor is raising concerns at a critical time. Out-of-state coal companies are hoping to fast-track federal and state permitting at the Port of Morrow and other locations to get approval for coal export before any comprehensive review of the environmental, health, and economic impacts have been considered,” said Ivan Maluski, Conservation Director for the Sierra Club’s Oregon Chapter. “The Governor has set a strong direction that we hope leads to a rigorous and comprehensive review of all of the harmful impacts of coal export before any necessary federal or state permits are issued.”

Oregonians Fight to Block Coal Exports

April 13, 2012

Oregonians from across the state rally against coal exports at a State Land Board meeting in Salem, April 9 2012. Photo by Gregory Sotir

Oregon’s voice against coal exports is getting louder!  On the morning of April 9 in Salem, over 100 Oregonians from all corners of the state rallied outside the Oregon State Lands Board meeting to send a message to Governor Kitzhaber and other state decision-makers to reject dirty coal exports.  The event was a huge success, covered by regional and local television, radio and print media, and reflecting the geographic diversity of the opposition to coal export from Coos Bay to the Columbia Gorge, and communities in between.

Coal export is a statewide and regional issue that demands leadership from Oregon’s key decision-makers. Currently, the Oregon Department of State Lands (DSL) is considering issuing a permit for a proposed coal export dock at the Port of Morrow on the Columbia River. The US Army Corps of Engineers is taking public comment on the same proposal until May 5 (click here to comment).

The press conference highlighted voices from several areas of Oregon that would be affected, providing different perspectives on the impacts dirty coal trains and barges would have on Oregonians’ health, environment, and quality of life.  People gathered from the Portland area, Gorge communities, Eugene, Salem, and Southern Oregon cities.  The rally featured the “coal monster” costume, colorful signs highlighting where they were from and their perspective as a parent, health professional, business owner, etc.  The gathering also featured over 7,000 comments from around the state calling for Governor Kitzhaber and Director of the Department of State Lands (DSL) Louise Solliday to reject coal exports.

Speakers at the rally in Salem included David Petrie, Coos Tribal member and director of Coos Waterkeeper in Coos Bay, the site of proposed coal terminal enshrouded in secrecy;  Peter Cornelison from Friends of the Columbia Gorge in Hood River, which would impacted by proposals to ship coal by rail and barge to ports further downstream; Duncan MacKenzie, an industrial designer from Rainier, a town which would be bisected by coal train traffic;  and Andy Harris, a medical doctor representing Physicians for Social Responsibility.

The strong showing in Salem from anti-coal export activists and affected community members from across the state is just the beginning of a growing statewide voice opposed to coal exports in Oregon.

Coos Bay Coal Export Battle Heats Up

March 9, 2012

Proposals to export coal from Oregon to China will increase global warming pollution, coal related health problems, and contribute to harmful mercury build up in Oregon's rivers.

In June 2011, seeking to learn more about the public health and environmental impacts associated with coal export plans, the Sierra Club filed a simple request to the Port of Coos Bay under the Oregon Public Records Act to learn more about their plans to develop a major coal export terminal. Media reports had referenced confidential agreements the Port was involved in with unnamed coal companies, but little information was publicly available.

Because the Sierra Club would not profit from the information and would instead use it to educate the public, we requested a waiver of fees. In response, the Port of Coos Bay went on the attack. They demanded that we supply them with unnecessary and invasive information about Sierra Club board members and claimed it would cost almost $10 per page to view over 2000 pages of public documents they had in their possession. Of the approximately $20,000 they sought, nearly $17,000 of it was for attorney’s fees alone, billed at $200 per hour.

As it became clear that the Port was attempting to block access to the public records by charging unreasonable fees, we made an appeal to the Coos County District Attorney. After considering the facts, the District Attorney agreed that charging nearly $17,000 in attorneys fees was ‘unreasonable.’ In a late February decision, the District Attorney wrote eloquently, “the Public Records Law as a whole embodies a strong policy in favor of the public’s right to inspect public records. If an agency places a high cost on the public in order for the public to obtain access to the records, the rights of the public to have access will be hindered, chilled or even denied.” Even the Coos Bay World newspaper, which to date has shown little sympathy for the Sierra Club’s efforts to block coal export, editorialized in our favor in the public records case.

Unfortunately, the Port of Coos Bay is now appealing the District Attorney’s decision to circuit court. In the meantime, they have charged another organization, Eugene based Beyond Toxics, $22,000 for public records related to hauling coal by train through Eugene and other communities along the route of the Coos Bay Rail Link.

Stay tuned, this battle is just beginning.

Big Coal Eyes Oregon – Oregonians Fight Back

January 19, 2012

Big coal companies are eying Oregon. With coal fired power plants closing across the Northwest and nation due to public demand for cleaner energy, big coal companies want to export the dirty fossil fuel to fast-growing countries in Asia were environmental standards are far lower than in the U.S.

In 2011, the Port of St. Helens along the Columbia River, and the Port of Coos Bay on the southern Oregon Coast, revealed they were in confidential negotiations with unnamed coal companies seeking to export tens of millions of tons of coal to Asia. The Ports have kept the plans secret for months.

But things have been heating up recently. In late December, the Oregon Department of State Lands approved a controversial dredging in north spit of Coos Bay necessary for huge ships that export coal and liquefied natural gas (LNG). On January 18, a coalition of conservation groups and local citizens appealed the decision, arguing that the dredging would cause significant harm to water quality in Coos Bay, and that environmental and public health impacts of exporting LNG and coal were never considered. Read the coalition press release.

Meanwhile, the Port of St. Helens has announced a public meeting to hear from two companies vying to build a coal export terminal on the Columbia River. This is in addition to a coal export terminal proposed for the Washington side of the river in Longview, and another in Bellingham, WA. Read the press release on St. Helens’ coal export plans.

The Sierra Club is fighting multiple coal export plans in the Pacific Northwest as well as plans to export LNG.