Hey Oregon, let's make 2015 the year we transition from coal to clean energy

By Amy Baird of Portland, Oregon. Amy advocates for renewable energy as communications manager for Renewable Northwest.

Renewable Northwest and other advocates are kicking off 2015 with a New Year’s resolution to transition Oregon away from polluting coal resources to clean, renewable resources instead. New polling released last week by the Sierra Club reinforces broad support for the proposal: 71% of Oregon voters said that they support a transition from coal to clean energy by 2025.

The coal to clean energy legislation, Senate Bill 477 and House Bill 2729, will remove coal from Oregon’s investor-owned electric utilities supply by 2025 and replace that power with resources that are 90% cleaner than the coal they are replacing. Replacement power resources like solar and wind will add to local job growth in the region rather than elsewhere when possible, supporting local economies.

Despite our “green” reputation nationally, many in Oregon are surprised to learn that we’re over a third coal powered. If you’re a PGE customer, slightly less than a third of your power comes from coal. Much of that is correlated with the Boardman coal plant here in Oregon, which thanks to a lot of hard work, is slated for early retirement in 2020. PGE also imports coal power from Montana. And if you’re a Pacific Power customer, your electricity mix is over two-thirds coal power from out-of-state plants. For a state that prides itself on being sustainable and has a solid legacy of clean, renewable energy resources thanks to our hydroelectric system and other abundant resources, this ongoing reliance on coal is unacceptable. We want to be proud of our energy, and we should be.

The polling released last week reinforces what we’ve known to be true for a while: Oregonians want to transition off of coal power. Two public forums were held at the end of 2014 to start the conversation, sponsored by a broad array of climate and conservation-minded organizations and hosted by the Sierra Club. A mid-week forum in Portland on a rainy night in November brought out nearly 200 concerned citizens who were curious to learn more and engage. A mid-week December forum in Corvallis brought out nearly 40 people who were concerned that they were purchasing coal and asked questions about what could be done to solve this problem. Now we have statewide polling from over 500 Oregonians that shows over 71% support the proposal and an overwhelming 88% support the proposal’s preference for renewable energy generated in-state to promote job growth.

The Oregonian is busy denying that climate change is an issue that needs to be discussed here at home, but Oregon ratepayers care that climate change is affecting our lives today and that the electricity sector is one of the biggest polluters in the country.

We have over 3,300 MW’s of renewable energy in our state from wind, solar and geothermal resources. Those megawatts have resulted in a cumulative of over $9 billion of investment, supporting thousands of jobs and generating tax revenue that supports local economies across Oregon and funds crucial services like education and infrastructure. The jobs created are family wage earning positions in fields such as engineering, construction and manufacturing. The economic development potential of clean energy is not to be underestimated.

Still, Oregon’s use of wind, solar and geothermal power amounts to a pie slice that’s only 5% of our total energy use. Oregon has more than 1,000 megawatts of clean energy projects that are already permitted and waiting to build. Removing the coal from our electricity mix opens up room for these job-creating clean energy projects. Rather than spending hundreds of millions of dollars to maintain outdated coal burning plants out-of-state, Oregon ratepayers would rather invest in a clean energy future here in the region. Transitioning away from risky fossil fuels, facing carbon regulations and tightening pollution controls, is smarter for our state in the long run.

As we begin 2015, let’s resolve to make this the year that we support action to transition Oregon off coal and onto clean, renewable energy. There’s so much to be gained by doing so, both for our economy and our environment.

Visit www.ProtectOurEnergyFuture.org to learn more about the proposal and how you can support a transition to clean energy.

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