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Oregon Utilities, Enviros Agree to Phasing Out Coal-Fired Power

State legislative committees in Oregon planned to discuss on Thursday putting into law a landmark agreement to phase out coal-fired generation between 2030 and 2035.

The plan was carved out earlier this month by the state's two major electric utilities and a coalition of environmental groups. The future role for natural gas in the power mix is not part of the agreement, but its use may expand.

PacifiCorp's Pacific Power utility and Portland General Electric (PGE) agreed to phase out most coal-fired generation by 2030 and one additional PacifiCorp plant by 2035. The agreement is aimed at speeding the coal-fired generation replacement with wind, solar and other renewable energy. The coalition of all the major environmental groups had been pushing a statewide ballot initiative to accomplish the same thing before the state's Citizen Utility Board (CUB) helped broker the new deal.

Oregon's Legislative Counsel is crafting the proposal into a draft bill prior to lawmakers convening in a short, month-long session in February. In the interim, the state's House Energy and Environment and Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committees plan to hold a joint meeting Thursday to discuss the proposed legislation. The CUB-nurtured agreement, announced Jan. 6, would avoid a ballot measure slugfest this fall, if the Oregon lawmakers approve the compromise.

Phasing out coal-fired generation is in the works across the West Coast, which may expand future volumes of natural gas used for electric generation to California, Oregon and Washington. Washington and a California public sector utility are also pushing for reducing coal use and enacting a carbon tax (see Daily GPIJan. 7).

Under Oregon's latest deal, PGE and Pacific Power assured that half the energy they sell in the state by 2040 would come from renewable sources, not counting hydro power that's currently part of their supply. The deal also could accelerate the use of electric vehicles (EV) in Oregon and the construction of utility-scale solar power facilities.

There is no mention of natural gas in the agreement, but utility officials told NGI that it will likely increase the use of gas-fired generation in the transition to more renewables. "I think it is fair to say there is certainly a trend to using more natural gas," said a Pacific Power spokesperson.

Renew Oregon, a coalition of environmental groups that had been working on a ballot initiative for the November ballot, struck the deal with the utilities, along with the Sierra Club, which has been leading efforts against coal power nationally.

Oregon's electric utility officials view the compromise on coal as giving them more flexibility than the ballot measure proposals would, offering more assurances on keeping down costs and ensuring reliability of the grid. The utilities also have gained impetus to help them build more EV charging stations at peoples’ homes and workplaces, and recover the costs in rates.

Groups signing onto the deal include PGE, Pacific Power, the Oregon CUB, Climate Solutions, NW Energy Coalition, Oregon Environmental Council, Oregon League of Conservation Voters, Natural Resources Defense Council, Renewable Northwest and the Sierra Club.

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