One Sure Path to Clean Energy (and Clean Tech Jobs) in Oregon

Nick Engelfried

DEQ 'option three' would see the Boardman Coal Plant close in 2015 or early 2016, with minimal new pollution controls required. This choice is the clear winner—for the environment, for clean energy development, and for ratepayers.

Yesterday US Senate leaders announced they will give up even trying to pass a comprehensive climate and clean energy bill this year. This makes it clearer than ever: if states like Oregon want to reap the benefits of a clean energy economy, they’ll have to do it without waiting for help from the federal government. Though Oregon is already a leader in clean tech and green jobs creation, we still have much more left to do. And fortunately, this year Oregon has the opportunity to take a huge step toward securing a clean energy future for our state.

If you guessed this has to do with the Boardman Coal Plant, you’re right. The Boardman Plant isn’t just Oregon’s biggest polluter—it is standing in the way of our transition to clean energy. Oregon has one of the nation’s most ambitious goals for reducing carbon emissions. But these goals will be near-impossible to achieve if the Boardman Plant stays open as long as its operator, PGE, would like. Transitioning away from this coal plant within the next few years is the most important thing we can do to make Oregon’s clean energy future a reality.

This choice is laid out within three tentative scenarios the Department of Environmental Quality has suggested for retiring Boardman. None of these options sanction PGE’s original proposal to burn coal at Boardman until 2020 without pollution controls almost certain to be required under federal law. Yet DEQ’s “option one” for Boardman (closure in 2020) and “option two” (closure in 2018), would still tie Oregon to dirty coal for eight to ten years. Keeping Boardman open until 2018 or beyond would also involve PGE spending hefty amounts of ratepayer money on expensive pollution controls.

DEQ “option three” would see the Boardman Coal Plant close in 2015 or early 2016, with minimal new pollution controls required. This choice is the clear winner—for the environment, for clean energy development, and for ratepayers. As the DEQ finalizes its rule-making process, it’s essential this option stay on the table and that PGE not be let off the hook for polluting.

Meanwhile Oregon’s Public Utilities Commission should not allow PGE to sink ratepayer money in the 2018 or 2020 plans, only to see the investments evaporate when the plant closes anyway. There is broad public support for closing the Boardman Plant within the next few years, and progressive Oregonians are mobilizing to make it happen. Next month young climate and clean energy activists will be taking our concerns directly to PGE’s Portland offices in a manner that can’t be ignored. Progressives who want to keep clean energy jobs flowing into Oregon need to shout out this message loud and clear: the Boardman Coal Plant needs to go, and delay is unacceptable.

When it comes to building a green economy the federal government, handicapped by a dysfunctional US Senate, won’t be coming to the rescue real soon. Oregon can create thousands of green jobs while improving air quality and protecting the climate, but we’ll have to do the grunt work ourselves. Transitioning off the Boardman Coal Plant in the next few years is perhaps the single most important step, and progressives must seize the chance to do it. It’s the only sure path to Oregon’s clean energy future.

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

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      Obviously the transition to clean energy has to happen in a way that protects low-income ratepayers from rate hikes. But if phasing out Boardman in 2015 versus 2018 or 2020 is going going to raise rates significantly, I'd like to see some numbers to prove it. PGE's analyses make a 2014 shutdown date look expensive mainly by assuming unrealistically high future natural gas prices, way out of line with the predictions of other experts.

      Has anyone got the numbers to show these oft-hinted at rate hikes would actually materialize? Are there concrete analyses showing sinking hundreds of millions of dollars into this coal plant only to shut it down in a few years anyway would be a better investment than simply taking it offline in 2015? If so, I'd like to see them.

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        I don't see any mention of demand management in your analysis. How do conservation and efficiency factor into the equation for replacing Boardman? Obviously, from a GHG perspective we wouldn't want to see an additional long-term reliance on Colstrip (coal), or Coyote Springs or Port Westward (gas).

        I'd love to see a cost analysis under DEQ's three options comparing the different scrubbing investments at Boardman with a similar level of investment in conservation and efficiency in the homes and businesses within PGE's service territory.

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          Hi Rich,

          You're right that I neglected to mention the central role of increased efficiency in my reply above. That was mainly for the sake of brevity - not because efficiency isn't important. In fact, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council estimates 85% of new electricity demand in our region can be met simply by using energy efficiency. Reducing demand for the amount of energy that's needed in the first place is an essential part of replacing Boardman and other dirty power sources. Thanks for bringing this up!

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      With due defference to our perpetual governor one might ask him why he did little to address these issues in his previous terms.

      There's an old Chinese proverb that strikes me as applicable:


      As a breather of Boardman am I glad to sacrifice so the 7-11's in east Portland can run their empty rotating hot dog machines all night long?

      Using poor people as an excuse not to clean the enviornment is the age old cop-out. I'm sure PGE appreciates your insights.

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    Maybe what we need is some kind of steeply graduated rate scale that would allow for a reasonable amount of power usage per individual or per square foot of business space and have that at a lower rate, but rates for usage above that rate per person or per square foot would rise very quickly- it would be a very progressive rate scale.

    For awhile I've thought that we'll eventually need to get to power rationing on a permanent basis- maybe we will have to do that (hey- we can have the accoutrements of communism without having to go communist!).

    Even with a lot of innovation as regards the sources and the grid, I think we'll get to the place that says we have only so much generating capacity and a lot of people who want to use it (we have only so much capacity if we decide to get serious about CO-2 emissions, which we have to do).

    I'm thinking there has to be a way to discourage wasting of power. The rates would have to be set so that if a conscious effort is not made to be careful with usage, there will be a monetary price.

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      Certainly seems reasonable to me. The more you use, the more expensive it should get - even on a per-unit basis.

      Not sure how you'd do that for commercial customers (or if you'd even try), but for residential customers that would seem to make sense. As long as the initial allotment was reasonable.

      (And, btw, that would seem to make sense for water usage too.)

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    should say: "...but rates for usage above that amount per person or per square foot would rise very quickly"

    (in case anyone reads this posting)

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    I have asked this before and still have not recieved a cogent answer. What does Sierra club suggest be used as an alternative source of energy when Boardman is taken off-line? The euphemistic "Green Energy" sounds great as a sound bite, however combined wind, solar and geothermal make up less than 5% of available energy. Published news items clearly show that wind is produced in places the grid is not available and solar buy back schemes are at rates well above what is commercially viable.

    I can easily support shutting down Boardman anytime the commercially viable and affordable replacement is ready and on-line.

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      Hi Kurt,

      The question you're asking comes up a lot, so I've pasted below my comments on this matter from another thread. Here you are:

      I realize why you'd want a cut-and-dried, neatly spelled out answer to the question of how to replace Boardman. Unfortunately it's impossible to give such an answer - but that's because there are multiple options on the table. Renewables and energy efficiency must certainly be part of the mix for replacing Boardman - preferably, these two options should replace as much of the energy from the coal plant as possible. But if efficiency and renewables can't completely replace Boardman within the next few years, some of the difference could be made up using domestic natural gas. That would be better than coal for ratepayers because domestic natural gas has a smaller carbon footprint than coal (and so looks better in a future of carbon regulation), and emits far fewer other pollutants (and so wouldn't require the pollution controls PGE is supposed to install on Boardman in 2015).

      Of course, some people will question whether PGE can get enough of its own new energy generating infrastructure to replace Boardman up and running by 2015 or early 2016. I personally think they could do it - but even if I'm wrong, that's not a major hurdle. PGE could easily enter into a "power purchase agreement" with another utility for a few years, until it can completely replace Boardman itself. Other utilities have already indicated they'd be willing to look at setting up such agreements.

      The benefit of all this would be that we could eliminate Oregon's largest carbon source on a timescale that might actually do some good, while protecting ratepayers from having their bills tied to increasingly expensive coal power. And oh yeah - it also would mean PGE would be following the law.

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    My understanding is that the expenses from the different options are triggered by requirements to address haze. In other words, right now the focus is on nitrogen and sulfur, rather than greenhouse gases. Is that right?

    What are the greenhouse gas implications of the three different options? I get that coal is the base case from now until 2020. What is anticipated to replace the coal as an alternative source? From a supply standpoint, is Boardman most needed in the winter time or in the summer time? I get that the haze is worst during summer.

    In order to replace Boardman, would PGE be locking itself into any long term contracts or generation assets using, say, natural gas? I'd hate to see us rush into a 20 or 30 year mistake by not giving efficiency and conservation enough attention.

    However long Boardman is open, it would certainly seem undesirable to spend hundreds of millions to upgrade scrubbing capability on a plant closing in 5-10 years, when the same amount of money, spent on conservation and efficiency, could yield permanent benefits to the community and the environment.

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    Thank you Nick. So, if it would cost $150MM to retrofit and put dcrubbers ion Boardman, how many rooftop solar arrays cold be mounted on buildings and homes for that amount of money and be gnerating energy for the next 20 years? Is it a cost feasable thought?

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    $150,000,000 doesnt buy much in the way of real power if put in rooftop solar arrays. Lets say at a rate of $4.50/watt would mean 33,333,333 watts or 33,333 kw. With a 96% eff inverter, 96% solar fraction, varying degrees of sun around Oregon, but we'll use a multiplier of 1.1 (PDX 1.08, Corvallis 1.14, Bend 1.4) you would get around 33 million kilowatt hours per year. At about 1,000 kwh/month for the average house in Oregon, that would run about 2800 homes per year. Better yet would be to get off the Solar PV glamor train and put the money into efficiency. we manufacture and install energy efficient lighting and there is a whole lot left to do at a much lower cost to everyone. The same $150,000,000 would buy about 500,000 of our lights (about 10 times our output for the last 8 years) and save at least 400,000,000 kilowatt hours a year or 12 times more than the solar. Plus you would save on demand, where solar PV saves nothing on demand in commercial bills. weatherization, CFL's, insulating water heaters, changing T12 to T8 lighting... are less expensive still.

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    The concern I have about option 3 is that when we get down the road with no new pollution equipment our collection of noodle-brain legislators can easily grant perpetual extension based on what ever flimsy rational is in vogue at the moment.

    We need a state initiative to close Boardman permanently now. There's plenty of powe in the region- we saw BPA literally giving away power earlier this year. Wake up-

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    Nick is right. The transition is already underway. Renewable technology companies are expanding and hiring Oregon workers now and new rate structures, such as feed-in tariffs and netmetering for solar energy producers are laying the groundwork for the shift to renewables. But while PGE dithers and procrastinates trying to eke out the last bit of profit from the biggest pointsource of pollution in the state, the best sites for wind energy in Oregon are being scooped up by companies intent on selling their power to California. And remember, it isn't just burning the coal that is a problem. From the massive, destructive mining operations to the disposal of the highly toxic waste ash, there is nothing clean about coal.

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