The younger generation of today will have to deal with the worst consequences of any flawed energy policy. Yet students and young people have traditionally had relatively small influence over the course of state-level energy policy. In Oregon that may be changing, not a moment too soon for one of the most important energy decisions in years.
Until now students have lacked a legitimate vehicle to give organized input into energy decisions. While workers have their unions and corporations their business alliances, students have lacked a similar vehicle to voice their concerns. It’s ironic, because those in college today have more to win or lose out energy policy than almost any other demographic.
Enter an initiative spearheaded by ten student body governments in Oregon which this year passed resolutions urging a transition away from the state’s only in-state coal plant, on a faster timescale than that proposed by the plant’s utility operator. Student governments across the state ask that Boardman Coal be replaced by cleaner energy sources by the year 2014 or before. Such a move would eliminate the state’s largest source of greenhouse emissions, and allow the plant’s operator to avoid expensive pollution controls. It would also be one giant step toward our clean energy future, and the thousand of jobs that come with it.
Yet Boardman is operated by Portland General Electric—a private utility whose Wall Street investors have little interest in creating green jobs for Oregon. PGE’s “Boardman 2020 Plan” proposes burning coal at the plant at least until 2020, and possibly much later. This summer the Oregon Public Utilities Commission (OPUC) will decide whether to approve the 2020 Plan—and by rejecting it, OPUC can protect ratepayers from the risks of coal dependence. If PGE shifts to cleaner energy sources by 2014 instead of six years later, students in Oregon will win.
Students will win because it’s the best thing Oregon can do to hold catastrophic climate change at bay. And they’ll win because electricity rates around Portland won’t be so tied to a fuel destined to grow more expensive. By the time today’s students buy their first home, federal climate legislation will almost certainly be in place. That’s going to make carbon more expensive, and renewable energy cheaper—and it’ll make coal-fired power plants seem like a bad investment. When people who are in college today buy their first home in 2016 or 2017, they’ll benefit if their electricity bill isn’t tied to the price of coal power.
That’s why this year organizers with the Cascade Climate Network, OSPIRG, and Sierra Student Coalition approached student governments on campuses across Oregon, seeing these elected student organizations as the legitimate voice of thousands of young people. We worked with these bodies to pass resolutions calling for a transition away from Boardman by 2014. The response we got was overwhelming. Ten student governments representing large public universities, small private colleges, community colleges, and a high school have now called for Boardman’s timely retirement.
Registering this kind of input from student governments has given students in Oregon a new and more powerful voice in one of the most important energy decisions of the year. We’re calling on the Oregon Public Utilities Commission and other decision-makers to reject PGE’s 2020 Plan, and prevent the company from passing the costs of keeping Boardman open on to ratepayers. It’s now up to OPUC to do what’s right for Oregon, and right for Oregon students.