Close the Boardman Coal Plant...in 2011?

Nick Engelfried

“Instead of dumping more money into this plant that we’ve already paid too much for, any money Oregonians give PGE should go toward long-lasting solutions like renewable energy and energy efficiency.” - Sofia Gidlund of Greenpeace

Two Fridays ago progressives working to close the Boardman Coal Plant received a surprise: the Department of Environmental Quality, which had just ended a public comment period on the plant a few weeks ago, was re-opening for comments and holding additional public hearings in Portland and Boardman. The reason? The DEQ wants time to consider a “new” PGE closure plan for the Boardman Plant, which unfortunately looks pretty much like the utility’s old “2020 plan,” with a few minor changes.

It’s disturbing to me that PGE holds enough influence with state regulators that it can call a new public comment period into being this easily. It was also disheartening to have to tell volunteers who’ve shown up at hearing after hearing on this issue that they’d have to come out and testify yet again. But what truly surprised me was that PGE did a very poor job turning out their supporters to the hearing in Portland. Fully eighty percent of those who testified came not to support PGE’s plan for the Boardman Plant, but to call for a much earlier transition date.

Considering the hearing was announced with less than two weeks’ notice, supporters of groups like the Sierra Club and Greenpeace turned out in remarkable force. And rather than settling for a 2020 closure date, some progressive activists are challenging state agencies to settle the Boardman Coal issue once and for all by closing the plant July 1st of next year.

I’ve previously advocated transitioning off the Boardman Plant sometime between 2014 and 2016; I like to think of myself as a reasonable guy, willing to strike this kind of compromise. Yet I sympathize with Sofia Gidlund of Greenpeace, who explains why her organization wants to see the coal plant closed next summer.

“Instead of dumping more money into this plant that we’ve already paid too much for,” Gidlund says, “any money Oregonians give PGE should go toward long-lasting solutions like renewable energy and energy efficiency.” If Boardman Coal stays open past July 1st, PGE will have to invest in new controls for nitrogen oxide pollutants. Greenpeace maintains no new money should be invested in the plant.

As frustration grows with PGE’s stall tactics, more Oregonians are gravitating toward this kind of ultra-early shutdown plan. The thinking seems to be that if PGE isn’t open to compromise—if the company won’t come out with a responsible plan whatever the rest of us do—maybe it’s time to show them a bit of tough love. If PGE can’t work with environmental groups to responsibly retire the Boardman Plant, perhaps it’s time to stop begging and pleading, and mandate that not another cent be spent on this polluter.

Myself, I would settle for a 2015 closure, giving PGE a generous five years to prepare. But Greenpeace’s desire to see the plant eliminated as soon as possible certainly resonates with me. I think if PGE won’t strike a reasonable bargain, Oregonians are justified losing patience. Monday night’s hearing was convened to largely at PGE’s request, yet far more people came to speak in favor of closing the plant next summer than testified in support of PGE’s plan.

Time is running out for PGE and agencies that are supposed to protect Oregon’s air quality. They need to figure out how to retire this polluter in an environmentally responsible manner, but PGE continues to stall. Meanwhile it seems Oregonians are losing patience.

Comments

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    Transparency statement: I'm a volunteer for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. In this post I speak only for myself.

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    PGE's hydro and thermal plants currently supply about 2,400 MW. The Boardman plant makes up ~25% of that capacity. If the plant were to shut down next year, where would we get the power? Also, what could we build in a year that could supply that much power? I guess we could always just turn of power for a quarter of the people being served.

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      Andrew, your question about how to replace the Boardman Plant is the single most frequently asked question I get when I blog on this issue. For that reason I've written a post completely devoted to community solutions to dirty power sources like coal plants. Please see that post at http://www.blueoregon.com/2010/09/corvallis-community-takes-steps-move-beyond-fossil-fuels/

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        Nick, I agree that the pollution from the Boardman plant is a major issue that needs to be addressed.

        You did not answer my question at all. What would we build to replace the power within the next year? The PGE wind turbine project took $1 billion, 5 years, and only supplies 2/3 the power of Boardman when operating at full capacity. Unfortunately wind does not blow 100% of the time, so the actual output is estimated at 1/4 the output of Boardman.

        Your link is a beautiful dream and vision of a world where everyone would become self-sufficient and there would be no need for power plants. However, 60% of people essentially slammed the door to the idea in a fairly progressive Oregon town. What do we do while we wait for them to come around?

        I would like to hear a realistic plan where the lights wouldn't go out on businesses, industries, and residents, if Boardman were shut down next year. The 'all or nothing' attitude doesn't bring anything positive or constructive to the table.

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    It has appeared that Sierra Club, an outside of Oregon entity is the only environmental advocate currently against the Boardman 2020 plan. Why?

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      Kurt, In addition to the groups Stephen lists below, you can add Environment Oregon, Friends of the Columbia River Gorge, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Greenpeace to the groups opposing the 2020 plan. Greenpeace's opposition was a central theme of my original post, so a careful reading would have made it obvious there are other groups besides the Sierra Club involved.

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    Kurt Chapman, Cascade Climate Network and OSPIRG are also opposed to PGE's plan. And, anyway, the Sierra Club is structured much like the political parties are: there is the national and then there are the state organizations. The Sierra Club opposition to PGE is emanating from the state organization.

    But, NOT TO WORRY (!), check what a GOP Congressman from Illinois, who is attempting to become chair of the Hose Energy Committee, has to say about global climate change:

    http://voices.washingtonpost.com/postpartisan/2010/11/in_the-gops_house_god_wont_all.html

    Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) says we don't have to worry about the likely terrible effects of climate change because God will not allow it to happen.

    This is the perfect and justifiable opportunity to bash the Bible and all who elevate it beyond what it is, which is merely an interesting historical artifact.

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    "Hose" Energy Committee :-)

    My fingers also often type poorly so I like the slip! Thanks for the local information. I still wonder where the energy shortfall will come from, because there isn't enough conservation and alternative sources out there.

    Also a bit jaded I guess since the coal will just travel further to be consumed in potentially an even less friendly manner.

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      Kurt, For some ideas about how to replace the power from the Boardman Plant, please see a previous post of mine that deals specifically with this issue at http://www.blueoregon.com/2010/09/corvallis-community-takes-steps-move-beyond-fossil-fuels/

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    Kurt Chapman, I believe in the prescription put forth by Dr. James Hansen, which is that we need fast- breeder nuclear to make up for the loss of burning coal (and we do have to stop burning coal).

    There aren't very many leaders listening to Hansen- at least not yet. They had better start, quickly, as the science is solid that more than a one degree mean celsius rise over current temperature will begin a gradual but inexorable sequence of catastrophe.

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    Oh yeah, "Hose" Committee- an apt typo. :)

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