Oregon GOP, Dems squabble on clean energy bill to end coal imports, boost renewables

  • Debate over a controversial climate bill in Oregon has fallen into procedural tactics that included a walkout by Senate Republicans, but the Portland Tribune reports lawmakers in the House may have found a way to move the legislation ahead anyway.
  • Republicans essentially walked out of a session last week, as 17 Democrats attempted to convene the Senate in order to pass the measure which would end Oregon coal imports and push the state to a 50% renewable standard by 2040.
  • But the House Rules committee last week voted 7-2 on another piece of legislation the Senate had already passed, in which supporters tucked the climate measures, meaning the full House will possibly vote on it this week.

Dive Insight

Oregon's legislature has gone a bit crazy over a piece of legislation designed to boost renewables to 50% and end the state's use of coal. It started with news reports the Public Utilities Commission had been locked out of negotiations over the bill, and last week, Republicans refused to convene the Senate in order for a vote to be taken.

Stories that Gov. Kate Brown (D) had shut the commission out of discussions have largely been dismissed by all sides at this point, but it set the tone for a debate which has turned increasingly contentious. In both the House and Senate, opponents of the bill have called for minority reports as a delay tactic, and in the Senate, the walkout successfully delayed a vote. 

But the Tribune reports House lawmakers last week passed another measure out of the Rules committee, which had included the coal and renewables provisions. That means the measure could see a full vote this week and then head to Brown's office for her signature. The governor is a supporter of the bill, despite concerns by many that it will raise costs for the state's consumers.

Oregon Public Utilities Commission Chair Susan Ackerman has said that she does not support the bill because it will have little impact on emissions and may raise prices. But she has also said that reports depicting a breakdown in communication between lawmakers and regulators were generally overdone. Another regulator expressed his reservations about the bill in an email to another regulator in another state. 

"This bill is absolute crap ... a shell game that will result in no actual emissions reductions and higher rates for Oregon customers," Commissioner John Savage, the longest-serving regulator at the PUC, wrote in January to a regulator in another state, according to emails published by The Oregonian. "And then the utilities get to stuff our decisions they didn't like down our throats."

The deal is attracting attention for utility regulators around the country. Montana commissioner and NARUC President Travis Kavulla criticised the bill in an interview with Utility Dive. 

"Perhaps peoples' intention in supporting it are about decarbonizing the fleet but that's not what it actually does," Kavulla said. "What it actually does is commandeers utilities to build more renewables and some electric vehicle charging infrastructure and says to them 'Listen you can't import your coal power into Oregon after a date certain.'"

One thing that is "amazingly" missing from the bill, he added, is a requirement for the utilities to shut down their existing coal capacity, which exists out of state in Wyoming and Montana.

Last month, PacifiCorp and Portland General Electric reached a compromise with environmental advocates. The utilities agreed to support HB 4036 if environmental groups dropped their push for a ballot initiative on a more stringent reduction in coal generation. PacifiCorp believes its plan will save $600 million by 2030; Portland General Electric said its own plan could save between $220-$360 million over the next 25 years.


MAR 1 2016
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