Depending on where you live and who you listen to, the Clean Power Plan unveiled by President Obama Monday is either the most significant action on climate change ever undertaken or an economic disaster that will face a tsunami of legal challenges.
In Oregon, it may be more business as usual.
Nationwide, the rules will force overall reductions of carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants of 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Each state has an individual target based on its existing emissions profile, and is required to submit a plan to achieve that target.
Oregon’s goal under the plan equates to a 20 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. That’s far less stringent than the 48 percent reduction contemplated in last year’s draft rules. The goals apparently changed based on feedback Oregon officials provided after the draft rules were circulated in 2014.
“The state of Oregon may be wiping its brow, but what happens within the state of Oregon is less important that what happens nationwide,” said Angus Duncan, head of the state’s Global Warming Commission. ”
Indeed, Oregon is a small player when it comes to in-state sources of carbon dioxide emissions. Moreover, its existing plans already have it on a glide path to exceed the federal goals.
Portland General Electric, for example, has agreed to shut its coal-fired power plant in Boardman in 2020. It’s the only coal plant in the state and the largest source of CO2 emissions.
The state also mandated in 2007 that its big utilities serve 25 percent of their customers demand with renewable energy by 2025. PGE and PacifiCorp are already covering about 15 percent of demand, and will be making more investments to hit those goals.
Ratepayers have also been making big and ongoing investments in energy efficiency through the Energy Trust.
Oregon’s existing carbon reduction goal — 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 — is far more aggressive than the federal plan. But it’s not yet clear if Oregon’s electricity sector will achieve any net reductions in carbon dioxide emissions when new gas fired plants are considered.
PGE is building a new gas fired power plant at Boardman and brought a new set of gas-fired turbines on line in Clatskanie earlier this year. The company is beginning the planning process to replace the output of Boardman in 2020, which could entail another gas-fired plant.
Meanwhile, the developers of a proposed liquefied natural gas export terminal in Coos Bay are planning to build a gas-fired plant to power their liquefaction operations.
Oregon still gets a substantial chunk of its power supply from coal plants in Montana, Wyoming and Utah, and ratepayers here will almost certainly be affected by the actions the Clean Power Plan forces in those states.
PacifCorp has cast itself as a supporter of the Clean Power Plan. The Portland-based utility gets about two thirds of its power supply from coal-fired power plants today, but has pledged to shut 10 coal units by 2030 or convert them to run on natural gas.
Rachel Shimshak, president of the advocacy group Renewable Northwest, said the federal rules give Oregon an opportunity to build on its existing experience with renewable energy, which has resulted in 3,000 megawatts of new generation in state.
“As somebody who has labored in the field, I never thought I’d see the day when a U.S. president said climate change was our greatest challenge,” she said.
This article was written by Ted Sickinger from The Oregonian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.