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Boardman plan strikes right balance

Our Opinion

Oregon's Environmental Quality Commission should agree next Thursday with a remarkable coalition of interests supporting Portland General Electric's plan to cease coal-fire operations at its Boardman power plant no later than 2020.

The plan - which follows months of public haggling and five recent hearings held around the state - is a balanced approach that should be adopted when the commission meets Dec. 9 in Portland.

Clean air advocates, including the Oregon Environmental Council, Renewable Northwest Project and NW Energy Coalition, agree that PGE's plan will provide for significant reductions in greenhouse gases.

This effort is essential as Oregon commits to reducing greenhouses gases by many means - including shifting to power sources that have less impact on the environment. But as important as the environment is, we agree with the Citizens Utility Board that PGE's plan for Boardman also must provide the utility's customers an interim source of reliable and affordable electricity while PGE develops the next generation of cleaner power production.

By allowing Boardman to burn coal through 2020, the Environmental Quality Commission will strike the right balance between customers' power needs and the demands of the environment.

Frankly, imposing tighter restrictions and curtailing Boardman's coal-fire operations sooner is not acceptable. An earlier shutdown - some people advocated for 2014-15 - would not allow PGE sufficient time to develop new, affordable power sources or research alternative ways to utilize the Boardman power plant for the long term. Such options include using biomass materials from Oregon's forests as a cleaner energy source than coal.

Ultimately, the cost of producing power is paid by consumers from all walks of life. We believe Oregonians are willing to invest in compromise and reasonable strategies that benefit the environment, consumers and the economy.

Think of this: While PGE's Boardman plant is more than 150 miles east of the lights and activity of Portland, by reasonably cleaning up its operation, Oregon can serve as a model for how the nation can begin to reduce emissions from the more than 600 other coal-fired power plants in operation around the U.S.

With effort - and some needed flexibility permitted by the state - PGE may find ways to end Boardman's coal-fire operations even earlier, by 2018.

As evidenced by the compromise achieved by PGE, the tough-negotiating Citizens Utility Board and environmental advocates such as Angus Duncan, it is possible to move forward and serve complex outcomes.

The state Environmental Quality Commission should ratify that kind of strategy when it meets next week.