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.

 

 

 

 


Investing in the Future: The Healthy Climate Bill and the Coal Transition Plan

February 4, 2016

2167696800_4dedae718d_oWhen I was a kid, teachers always gave us the same piece of environmental advice: reduce, reuse, recycle. The emphasis was always on what we could do as individuals. We could pick up litter. We could recycle cans and bottles. We could donate our old clothes. If everyone did these small things, they would add up and make a difference in the world. Reduce, reuse, and recycle, and everything would be okay.

It took me until college to question this. In fact, it was in one of my very first college classes—intro to environmental studies—that my professor brought it up. I can still remember what he said: our lifestyle decisions as consumers are important, but they also distract from larger issues. What we need is not just for individuals to change, but for the entire infrastructure of our society to change. We need movements, protests, political change. And I remember him saying something about how there was “no free lunch”, how even just sitting in that lecture hall we were taking part in the dirty energy economy, what with the lights and the heating system, and if we went to the library, or the city hall, or anywhere in town, really, we would come upon the same problem, because it wasn’t just us—it was the way things were set up.

I always thought that part was particularly unfair. coalThis isn’t our mess. None of us in that lecture, none of us who went on to graduate in 2015, are responsible for the way things have been set up. We’re the inheritors of greed and chaos. I mean, look at what they’ve left us: heartbreaking mass extinctions, an ocean full of plastic garbage, an economy dependent on polluting fossil fuels that threaten the existence of all life.

But I also saw this beautiful possibility—this vision of change, of the sustainable society we could create. This isn’t our mess, but we can be the ones to fix it.

I’m not the only one with such a vision, of course. The quest for positive change is one of the main tenets of the Sierra Club. They’ve long been champions of clean energy, environmental justice, and conservation. In a way, they’re the embodiment of that big change, that infrastructural shift that my professor was talking about. I’m honored to be interning with them, especially at this moment of climactic urgency. With the hottest year on record behind us, and all this evidence of widespread droughts, reduced snow-packs, and crazy weather events—well, climate change is progressing right before our eyes. We have a small window here in which we can prohibit catastrophic warming.

Now is the time to make those big changes, and the Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club is taking action. During the 2016 legislative session, the Sierra Club is promoting two bills that work together to revitalize Oregon’s energy system.

windmillsThe Healthy Climate Bill, Senate Bill 1574, proposes a “cap and invest” system. This means that polluting industries would actually pay the true price for the environmental havoc they impose upon us, and for their disastrous contributions to climate change. The money would then be invested in the clean energy sector. We’d have reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and a proliferation of local, well-paying clean energy jobs. Not only that, but investments would be targeted towards those who, today, are most threatened by environmental injustices—low-income and rural communities, as well as communities of color.

The other bill—the Oregon Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Plan (House Bill 4036—also seeks to reduce emissions, but does so in partnership with PGE and Pacific Power, Oregon’s two largest utilities. Under this bill’s provisions, Oregon’s Renewable Portfolio Standard would double to 50% by 2040. Though Oregon’s last coal-fired power plant will close in 2020, PGE and Pacific Power still source much of their electricity from coal-fired plants in other states, such as Montana. This plan would make them completely coal free by 2035 and enable them to transition to renewable energy projects, like community solar programs that prioritize low-income communities. New infrastructure would be created to encourage green transportation, such as charging stations for electric cars, thereby lessening our dependence on gas and oil. I mean, imagine that: driving an electric car powered by 100% solar or wind power. Or going into almost any building in the state and knowing it’s powered mostly by clean energy.

These two bills complement each solar farm. 1st pictures. September 2012 30192Dother in that they have varying timelines and methods to achieve a shared vision. This is way more than reduce-reuse-recycle. This is the big stuff; the big changes that need to happen if we want a better future. These bills make clean energy more affordable than dirty energy. They lift disadvantaged communities into positions of climate leadership. They create new jobs for local community members. And, of course, they reduce carbon emissions. Oregon could serve as a model of justice and sustainability. We could provide the rest of the country—and even the world—with the glimpse of a promising future. These bills work because they address our issues at the source. They not only fix old problems but they lead us on to better things, to a cleaner, healthier, healed future, in which the next generation can look back, smile, and say, look at what they’ve left us.

Take action today by contacting your legislators in support of these bills!

 

 

 

 


Some things to know about the Clean Power Plan

August 5, 2015

Its here!

Yesterday President Obama and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy revealed the Clean Power Plan. As McCarthy put it, it was “an incredibly wicked cool moment.” But what does it mean?

In short, the plan aims to reduce carbon pollution nation wide by 32% by 2030 by putting limits on how much carbon can be put into the atmosphere by power plants. This is the first time such limits have ever been set, truly a “wicked cool moment.” But I’m sure you want more than the short of it.

To help answer the question I’ve compiled information from a few great articles and sources (all at the bottom) from the internet for you. If you have others you like feel free to post in the comments or tweet at us, @ORsierraclub:

The Plan will cut carbon pollution that is fueling Climate Change:McCarthyvideostill

Power Plants are the largest emitters of carbon pollution in the United States. They total about one third of all the emissions we generate. When fully implemented in 2030 the Clean Power Plan will reduce our carbon pollution by 870 million tons. That’s 166 million cars or 70% of our passenger vehicles off the road.

It will protect6a00d83451b96069e201a3fd38a3db970b our health:

By 2030, each year there will be 3600 fewer premature deaths, 90,000 asthma attacks, 1700 heart attacks, and 300,000 missed days of school and work. That’s because when we limit carbon emissions we are also limiting 318,000 tons of sulfur dioxide and 282,000 tons of nitrogen dioxide. Both gases contribute to soot and smog that make people sick.

 

It will help protect low income communities and communities of color:

The impacts of burning dirty fuels are disproportionately felt by low income communities and communities of color. Van Jones put it best in his CNN piece about the Plan: “The clean power plan will massively help minorities and low-income Americans. After all, one in six black kids and one in nine Latino children has asthma. Seventy-eight percent of African-Americans live within 30 miles of a dirty, polluting coal plant. African-Americans are also more likely to live in coastal areas and die during heat waves.” You should read his entire blog linked in the notes.

It will save us money on our utility bills:

When you total up the health and climate related benefits of the Clean Power Plan we’re looking at upwards of $45 billion of savings when fully implemented. That’s a lot of money that could be going to a lot of other great causes and issues. Bottom line, by 2030 the average American household can expect save around $7 a month on their utility bills. That’s not chump change.

It puts our state in the driver’s seat:

The Clean Power Plan sets carbon pollution standards for power plants across the country, but sets individual state goals based on each state’s current energy mix and what unique opportunities exist in each state. To make is easy the EPA has even created a model rule that states can adopt that guarantees their compliance with the Plan. If they don’t like that plan they can cut carbon pollution anyway they want as long as they meet the goals. This mean big opportunities to be leaders for states like Oregon.

We’ve got a good start to build from in Oregon:

Its Oregon’s time shine. We are already doing some things to move the energy sector to a fossil fuel free future and are on our way to meeting our goals in the Clean Power Plan, but there is a great deal more that needs to be done.

Renewable energy production in Oregon has grown 159% since 2008 and Oregon has a renewable portfolio standard that require utilities to generate 25% of their electricity with renewable sources by 2025. Our only coal fired power plant is already scheduled to go offline. Many Oregon cities and counties have climate plans of their own. Our Low Carbon Fuel Standard will reduce carbon pollution from our transportation sector.

More to do:beyond-coal-campaign-sierra-club-logo-large

Did you know that Oregon already has goals to reduce our carbon pollution 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. Unfortunately those are just goals and aren’t enforceable in any sector. We could challenge the nation and lead by making these goals rules rather than aspirations. Leading this way will spur clean energy and efficiency development and create a center for innovation here in Oregon and the economic benefits that come with it.

Utilities are also looking to replace their coal fired energy production with natural gas fired power plants instead of clean renewable energy. We must move away from fossil fuels, not toward them. Gas is not clean and added are the impacts of fracking and methane releases from wells. Natural gas is not a long term solution. We need our utilities to be planning for a fossil fuel free future.

Multinational corporations are also hoping that Oregon and the Pacific Northwest will be a tap for dirty fuels on the global market. We need our elected officials and state agencies to stand up and say “no way.”  We have to decide if we want to talk about climate leadership or really show what that leadership looks like. We can’t talk about reducing our own carbon pollution while allowing big oil, gas, and coal to ship their dirty fuels around the globe for others to burn.

It is equally important that as we begin to comply with the Clean Power Plan and take further climate action that our changes are not burdens to low income communities or communities of color. These communities disproportionately  are impacted by the negative consequences of our current energy system, both from climate change and pollution. Our Climate Action Plan should serve as a means to lessen those impacts on those most in need of relief, not add to them. In addition the benefits of clean energy should be shared equally and not go to further these inequalities and benefit some more than others.

I fully applaud the President and Administrator McCarthy for their leadership and for producing the Clean Power Plan. I also call on our elected officials to not rest here, to continue to lead and push for further carbon reductions and an end to the fossil fuel era. I also call on you to make sure elected officials are accountable for their actions or lack of action when it comes to climate. As the President said yesterday in his announcement “If we don’t do it nobody will.”

Notes:

EPA Blog post: Six things every American Should Know about the Clean Power Plan

Oregonian: Oregon Already on a path to meet Obama’s new clean power goals

CNN: Busted: Three Myths About Obama’s Climate Plan by Van Jones

EPA: Clean Power Plan State Specific Fact Sheets

Whitehouse: What the Clean Power Plan Means for America

Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club’s Statement on the Clean Power Plan

 


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 »


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