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.