Public Utilities Commission Bombs on Boardman Coal Plant Decision

Nick Engelfried

The great majority of ratepayers who testified to the PUC in June favored an earlier shutdown, but their concerns seem to have been trumped by the fact that the commission doesn’t want to upset PGE too much.

Today Oregon’s Public Utilities Commission, an unelected body appointed by the governor, chose to side with the state’s biggest private utility over the objections of hundreds of Oregonians who turned out to a public hearing on the Boardman Coal Plant last June. Chairman Ray Baum, Commissioner John Savage, and Commissioner Susan Ackerman voted unanimously to acknowledge PGE’s proposal to burn coal at the Boardman Plant until 2020, despite convincing evidence that this is a bad deal for ratepayers.

In acknowledging the 2020 plan, the PUC brushed aside earlier and lower-cost closure options, such as transitioning off the Boardman Plant in 2015 or 2018. Before taking a vote the commission listened to renewable energy experts testify convincingly that PGE has failed to show closing the plant earlier would subject its customers to higher rates, that there are cost-effective and lower carbon alternatives to burning coal until 2020. The commission also wasn’t swayed by the fact that burning coal at Boardman until 2020 would make it all but impossible for Oregon to achieve its greenhouse emission reduction goals.

Of course one bad decision from the PUC doesn’t mean the Boardman Coal Plant will be running in 2020. The state Department of Environmental Quality, and ultimately the Environmental Quality Commission, has its own set of decisions to make that could make operating the plant until 2020 less attractive.

Meanwhile the federal Environmental Protection Agency has found the Boardman Plant to be violating clean air laws and could take action to close the plant sooner than 2020. A state law or ballot initiative could also close the plant. Should any of these scenarios occur, the PUC will have done ratepayers a disservice by failing to order PGE prepare for the possibility of an earlier shutdown.

This should be a frustrating moment for hundreds of Oregonians, many of them PGE ratepayers, who have been advocating for months that the Boardman Plant be closed well before 2020. The great majority of ratepayers who testified to the PUC in June favored an earlier shutdown, but their concerns seem to have been trumped by the fact that the commission doesn’t want to upset PGE too much. Today the PUC sent Oregonians a loud and clear message: you can turn out to public hearings and submit comments all you want, but that won’t stop us from rubber-stamping pretty much whatever PGE wants us to do.

So that was nice.

Comments

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

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    here's an update on insanity

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    Today the PUC sent Oregonians a loud and clear message: you can turn out to public hearings and submit comments all you want

    Nick, you may be right on the substance of your post -- but I always look askance at suggestions that turnout at public hearings should be what determines the outcome of a decision.

    A public hearing isn't an election. It's about fact-finding and deliberation. In fact, sometimes turning out dozens of people who swap the process can be counter-productive, annoying and irritating decision-makers --- and hiding the relevant data points and salient arguments in a sea of repetitive blather.

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      Point taken, Kari. However what's really frustrating to me is that I've seen little evidence that the "facts found" during the public hearing on this issue were given much weight in the PUC's final decision. Now I could certainly be missing something, but as someone who has followed this process very closely since the beginning of the year, I feel like I'm qualified to make a judgement. It seems to me the PUC dismissed too lightly testimony that should have influenced their final decision - including some from very knowledgeable folks who pointed out flaws in PGE's analysis.

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    I have to agree with Kari, just because a plethora of people show up to mouthpiece the same old thing, does not make their opinion correct. as an example, the folks fighting the Mt. Ashland expansion consistently over pack the public hearings and send i multiple copies of the same arguments. The rulings generally favor the expansion.

    Then the folks against any use of the forest resort to the courts. They have been doing this for over 7 years now.

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