Revolutionizing Oregon: the Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Plan becomes law

March 24, 2016

SolarPanelsBy Francesca Varela

Nearly every day I hear news about climate change, and usually it’s not good. Just the other day I read something about how temperatures are rising more quickly than predicted; how the rate at which the seas will rise has probably been underestimated. I’ve been reading about water rationing, and superstorms; stagnant weather ridges, and marine life migrating north; shells disintegrating off the backs of sea snails, and mass extinctions rivaling the end-Cambrian. I read all these things with a sense of urgency and a sense of loss, but also with a sense of hope. Because, in the midst of these warnings, something good has emerged—a solution; one that will hopefully inspire others to follow our lead.

On March 11th, Governor Kate Brown signed the Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Plan (Senate Bill 1547) into law. The bill’s supporters included environmental groups like the Sierra Club and Oregon’s two largest utility companies, PGE and Pacific Power, who were well aware of the economic threat of coal decline and eager to prioritize clean energy.

WindFarm.jpgBy 2035, these utility companies will be completely coal-free. The Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Plan is an incremental process that allows the companies to ease into things while still maintaining a sense of climactic urgency. Improving upon existing Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), the Plan mandates that the companies derive a certain percentage of their energy from renewable sources—27% by 2025, 35% by 2030, 45% by 2035, landing eventually at 50% by 2040.

This increased use of renewable energy and the eventual elimination of coal will allow Oregon to reach its goal of reducing carbon emissions to 75% below 1990 levels by 2050, and with no threat to consumers. The RPS can be temporarily suspended if meeting the requirement would interfere with grid reliability. Fair rates for customers are guaranteed long-term through the dispersion of renewable energy tax credits. And, if using more renewable energy would mean a rise in price of more than 4% for customers, the companies can postpone doing so. Considering the decreasing cost of renewables, however, they likely won’t need to.

Customers can also look forward to new opportunities, like a community solar program; a co-op of sorts in which you can invest in solar projects and claim ownership of them, reducing your electric bill while also making a positive environmental and social impact. 10% of the solar power generated from these programs is intended for low-income customers.

The Plan also includes a requirement that more energy come from small, local projects, including wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass. Local green energy means local green jobs, and a boost to Oregon’s economy.Powerlines

Some of this clean energy will be used to expand electric transportation, decreasing our reliance on fossil fuels even further. Charging stations for electric cars, electric buses, and expanded public transportation can be expected as Pacific Power and PGE work on plans to build up our electric transportation sector.

The Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Plan is revolutionary in its total commitment to eliminating energy from coal, but there’s still more that can be done. The Healthy Climate Bill (Senate Bill 1574)—a “cap-and-invest” plan that would fine polluting industries and use the money to fund green initiatives and to support communities threatened by environmental injustice—didn’t pass this legislative session, but the Sierra Club and its allies plan to resurrect it during the 2017 session with the hope of deepening Oregon’s commitment to a clean, just future. You can help by reaching out to your local representative and reminding them that the transition to a green economy is a high priority—and make sure to thank them for the work that has already been done on the Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Plan.

News of Oregon’s new law has spread far and wide, making headlines in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, ABC News, and international newspapers like The Guardian. Oregon has become a world leader in the climate movement.

Haystack_Rock_Oregon.jpgThe sooner we do away with fossil fuels the less the oceans will rise, the less the water will acidify, the fewer animals will go extinct from habitat loss. Oregon will be coal-free by 2035. Only five years after that, at least half our energy will come from renewable resources. The passage of this act shows the rest of the country—and the world—that transitioning away from fossil fuels is positive and necessary. It’s without a doubt one of the most important things we will ever do as a society. Hopefully more states and countries will pass their own initiatives. Ours is a good beginning, and, hopefully, just that—the beginning.





A Reinvigorated Battle Cry for the Climate by Jessie Bond

August 13, 2015

For years, conversations around global warming have been volleying back and forth between dire predictions and outright denial. Most of the discussion has centered on scientific data and the economic impact of dealing with climate change. But the plea to protect our planet from the worst effects of rising temperatures has not fully resonated because most people have been overlooking an important human motivator: our own morality.

Until now. In May, Pope Francis took a stand and brought the climate change conversation to a new global level. In a 184-page encyclical, the Pope delivered a powerful critique on modern life. He addressed not only the fact that humans have contributed to the degradation of our planet but that we have a moral responsibility to our own and other species. He called for a sweeping “cultural revolution,” and among the many pages offered some guidance for every government, community, and individual. This call to action sparked a renewed energy to confront climate change and the enormous ecological, economic, and social imbalances that are root causes of the crisis.

Many cities across the globe are heeding this call and beginning to roll out plans to combat climate change at the local level. In fact, in the wake of the Pope’s statement, the Portland City Council and Multnomah County Commissioners unanimously voted to adopt the joint 2015 Climate Action Plan. This continues a 20-year legacy: Portland was the first city in the United States to create a plan for cutting carbon in 1993. Total carbon emissions in the U.S. have risen since the 1990s, but Portland’s emissions have actually declined by 14%, while its population has increased by almost a third.

The updated joint city-county plan is intended to strengthen the local effort to reduce carbon emissions by 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. This is the level experts feel is needed worldwide to prevent devastating climate disruption from global warming.

Issues of equity and justice, which have largely been missing from the global climate conversation as Pope Francis points out, are finally getting serious consideration. The city-county plan, which was developed with the help of an equity working group, reflects this. Along with minimizing fossil fuel use, the plan focuses on ensuring that all city and county residents benefit from climate action.

At the Sierra Club we know that ensuring a livable climate for everyone is the biggest challenge of our age. The Oregon Chapter is working to educate the public, mobilize communities, and support the growing and thriving climate movement, and there are many ways you can get involved:

  • Find out what the joint city-county action plan means for Portland and Multnomah County at our Third Thursday event: Our Climate, Our Future: the Portland/Multnomah County Climate Action Plan at 6:30 p.m. at the Sierra Club office.
  • Hear what local faith leaders have to say about the moral implications of the climate crisis and how to build powerful coalitions at our Third Thursday event: Acting on Faith: The Moral Imperative of the Climate Crisis at 6:30 p.m. at the Sierra Club office.
  • Support our Protect State Forests campaign. We are fighting to preserve the Clatsop and Tillamook State Forests, which, as part of the Pacific Northwest temperate forest range, store much of the carbon on the planet.
  • Find out about our new You CAN Corvallis training for youth climate activists to push the Corvallis City Council to pass a climate action plan with significant greenhouse gas emissions targets.

Leaders like Pope Francis remind us that we can better build resilient communities only when everyone is included. It’s the shared human responsibility as Carl Sagan wrote, “to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot.” Taking a moral stand in being good and decent to others and to our world is what is going to help us and other species survive.

Applaud the Clean Power Plan: Release

August 3, 2015

August 3, 2015
Contact:  Andy Maggi (503) 238-0442 x301

Oregon Sierra Club Statement on Release of the Clean Power Plan

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The EPA and the Obama Administration released the final version of the landmark Clean Power Plan. The plan will give States the opportunity to craft their own plan to reduce carbon emissions based on their existing energy portfolio.

As the U.S. moves towards cleaner energy with the Clean Power Plan, Oregon can continue to lead on clean energy and climate change by pursuing  Coal to Clean legislation and supporting a ban on coal exports.

In response, Sierra Club Oregon Chapter Executive Director Andy Maggi released the following statement:

“The Clean Power Plan is the most significant single action any President has ever taken to tackle the most serious threat to the health of our families: the climate crisis.

“Today marks the end of an era for dirty power plants that have spewed dangerous pollution into our air without limits for too long.  It signifies a new era of growth for affordable and safe clean energy sources that don’t fuel climate disruption and sicken our communities.  Today is a victory for every American who wants clean air to breathe, and for the millions of activists and concerned citizens who organized to make sure this day would finally come.

“As we celebrate this national milestone, here in Oregon we see more opportunities for our state to regain its position as a nationwide climate leader. State lawmakers  recently adjourned after failing to pass key Coal to Clean legislation, which would have reduced our reliance on dirty, out-of-state coal plants, as well as other environmental bills. Combined with  tightening bans on coal exports coming through Oregon and state carbon pricing, this legislation would have been a step forward for Oregon  towards cleaner energy and a more sustainable future. We hope the Clean Power Plan will give our leaders the confidence to continue reducing our use of coal and develop the renewable energy that Oregonians want.”

In Oregon, Student Governments Call for a Future Beyond Coal

June 1, 2010

It began in January, when Portland General Electric (PGE) made a big announcement: the major Oregon utility, partial owner and sole operator of the Boardman Coal Plant, proposed a possible timeline for phasing out reliance on Boardman.  That was the good news: after months of work on the part of climate activists, PGE had finally acknowledged the risks of associated with their coal-fired coal plant.  The bad news?  The soonest transition date proposed by PGE fell woefully short of what’s needed to protect Oregon’s environment, our economy, and ratepayers being subjected to the risks of coal dependency.  Under PGE’s proposed “2020 Plan,” the Boardman Plant would remain open for a minimum of ten more years.

Media outlets in the Northwest were a-flurry with the news that PGE wanted to decommission its coal plant.  Laudatory news articles and editorials poured in, the vast majority framing the issue as one of the PGE responding to public concerns by doing the right thing for the environment.  Unfortunately, few stories in the mainstream media probed deeply into the validity of claims PGE made to justify their preferred timetable.  Most news sources accepted PGE’s arguments at face value, never asking the essential question of whether a private utility that answers to Wall Street investors should be trusted to essentially regulate itself.  Read the rest of this entry »