Pacific Power’s got you hooked on Coal

By Amy Hojnowski, of Portland. Amy is the Senior Campaign Representative for the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign.

Check your electric bill. Does it say Pacific Power on it? Then let me be the first to tell you: you are addicted to coal. What, you say? Oregon doesn’t use coal power. That’s another state’s problem, right? Wrong. Over two-thirds of the energy Pacific Power supplies to their half-a-million customers in Oregon comes from out-of-state coal. But last week, the Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) issued a final order on the long-term energy mix of PacifiCorp, operating as Pacific Power in Oregon. Their final decision was clear: no more business as usual for coal-dependent Pacific Power.

For the last year, the Commissioners have been outspoken in their skepticism that Pacific Power’s fleet-wide, multi-billion coal expenditures provide the least-cost option for Oregon customers. In their final decision last week, the Commissioners refused to acknowledge Pacific Power’s coal expenditures at two of the Jim Bridger units in Wyoming and one unit at the Hunter plant in Utah, which means that Pacific Power will likely face significant challenges seeking additional rate hikes to pay for their coal.

The company’s rates in Oregon have already increased 61 percent during the last seven years, accounting for the billions spent to prop up dirty coal plants in other states. PGE, for example, uses half as much coal and their rate increases have been significantly less than Pacific Power’s.

The PUC’s final order reflects their findings that Pacific Power is putting its customers at risk of large price increases by investing in its coal fleet rather than honestly considering real investments in viable alternatives like wind and solar that create jobs here in Oregon. The Commission is charged with making sure that Pacific Power and all utilities are providing their customers with the least cost, least risk energy options, and clearly coal doesn’t cut it anymore.

While other utility companies in Oregon move more quickly toward affordable clean energy options, Pacific Power continues to cling to its outdated coal plants. Cheaper, safer and cleaner sources of energy like wind and solar are available now but account for less than 10% of Pacific Power’s energy mix and their long-term planning shows virtually no change.

Pacific Power’s customers expect more from their utility and are often shocked to learn how much coal they buy in their monthly bill. The reality is that the coal industry is dying out and the future is in modern solutions like wind and solar. Looming overhead are further public health protections and the first national standards limiting carbon pollution from power plants—a key driver of climate disruption—making dirty coal even more expensive and a shaky investment proposition. Even new analysis from Citigroup shows that coal is priced out of the market, while solar and wind power are already competing on costs with dirty fuels.

Meanwhile, Oregon is home to a burgeoning clean energy economy. There is no reason for Pacific Power to continue to burn coal in other states to power homes here in Oregon, other than to continue business as usual. Oregon ranks 5th in the nation for total wind energy installation and there is enough solar energy installed in the state to power over 7,000 homes. Investments in local solar and wind power will keep money in Oregon and provide jobs. A new report from the American Wind Energy Association shows that the states with the most wind power see electricity prices decline, while other states see price increases.

The Oregon Public Utility Commission stood up for Oregonians and sent a clear signal to Pacific Power that the utility cannot keep dumping money into outdated coal plants and expect customers to pick up the bill. Now it’s time for citizens and elected officials to engage and call for a truly coal-free Oregon. Together we can stop importing dirty coal from Pacific Power and start investing in clean energy.

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