Oregon bill to curb coal use, set 50% renewables mandate heads to Senate after House passage

  • The Oregon House of Representatives on Tuesday passed Senate Bill 1547, a revised version of legislation crafted by a coalition of utilities, consumer advocates, and environmentalists that will codify a 50% renewable energy standard by 2040 and phase out all use and importation of coal-generated electricity by 2035.
  • SB 1547 is the latest version of House Bill 4036, which passed the House last month but was stalled on its way to the Senate by Republican maneuvering. The revised bill resolves key partisan differences, including keeping in place a 4% maximum premium that utilities Pacific Power and Portland General Electric (PGE), can pay for mandate-compliant renewables, according to a Pacific Power spokesperson.
  • The bill now goes to the Senate for a concurrence vote and to Gov. Kate Brown (D), who is expected to sign it. Critics say the limits on coal-generated electricity will only raise prices for consumers without reducing carbon emissions, since most of the coal plants supplying Oregon are out of state and will simply sell their generation into other states. 

​Dive Insight:

After weeks of legislative wrangling, Oregon may be on the cusp of passing a 50% renewable energy mandate, joining the ranks of states like California and New York, both of which have similar 50% goals. 

After passage in the House on Tuesday, SB 1547 is being sent to the Senate for a concurrence vote, and the bill's backers told the Portland Business Journal that they expect a speedy approval without reviews by committees or other delays. 

One of SB 1547B’s key provisions is the requirement that most coal-generated electricity be eliminated by Pacific Power and PGE by 2030 and the rest eliminated by 2035. Opponents argue the coal plants producing that power will not be shuttered but will sell into wholesale markets that supply demand centers in multiple other states. 

Last month, as the House passed the earlier version of the bill, emails surfaced from utility regulators claiming they were not consulting in crafting the regulatory package — which their agency will enforce — and that the legislation would only raise prices for consumers without cutting carbon emissions. 

The bill — product of a compromise between the state's investor-owned utilities and environmentalists — attracted attention from utility regulators around the country. At a conference last month, NARUC president and Montana regulator Travis Kavulla criticized the bill, noting that it "amazingly" does not include a requirement for the utilities to shut down their existing coal capacity, which exists out of state in Wyoming and Montana.

"Presumably those utilities will simply reallocate their coal plants to customers in other states or engage some swapping behavior so the conscience of Oregonians can be clear," Kavulla said, "but it's pretty clear that this bill won't actually reduce carbon emissions despite that being the ostensible purpose of it."

If signed by Gov. Brown, SB 1547 would raise the state Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) to 27% in 2025, 35% in 2030, 45% in 2035, and 50% in 2040. The 4% cap on price premiums for the resources is intended to protect consumers. The Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) can temporarily suspend the RPS if grid reliability is threatened.

Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) for projects built before 2023 will have unlimited life for utilities, providing an incentive to up renewable buys sooner.

The bill would also create a community solar program, allowing Oregonians without solar suitable roofs to own a portion of a larger central array and have credits for its generation applied directly to their electricity bills.

It also requires the two utilities to support electric transportation and allows them to submit plans to the PUC for deployment of charging stations and other electric vehicle infrastructure. 

The bill only applies to investor-owned utilities Pacific Power and PGE. Electric cooperatives and municipal utilities are exempt, as they are not regulated by the PUC. 


MAR 2 2016
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