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For clean energy, stop coal use

TWO VIEWS • PGE's Boardman plant should be closed • Region's energy future requires reliance on many sources
by: Tribune File Photo, Power lines near Boardman in Eastern Oregon.

Want more dirty coal? You've got it - courtesy of Portland General Electric.

PGE recently announced a plan to lock Oregon into a dirty energy future by increasing its ownership of the Boardman coal plant in Eartern Oregon and extending the plant's lifetime to at least 2040.

If PGE's proposal is accepted by the Oregon Public Utility Commission this year, it would increase Oregon's liability for greenhouse gas emissions, expose PGE ratepayers to greater costs and rate instability and delay substantial new investments in clean energy.

We are doing our part. Oregon communities are investing heavily in solutions to the climate crisis. Now, we need PGE to do its part. Surprisingly, in the face of Oregon's aggressive but doable carbon dioxide (CO2) reduction goals adopted by the Legislature in 2007, and at a time when the public is calling on PGE to reduce its dependence on dirty coal, PGE's chosen plan actually increases the utility's global warming pollution. The utility's actions affect our health and clean water, and will have long-term economic liabilities. Continuing coal-generated power is an irresponsible, costly path. We deserve better.

Nearly everyone, including PGE, expects to see a price on carbon emissions within the next few years. Since Boardman emits about 5 million tons of CO2 annually, even a moderate price of $20 per ton of CO2 will add up to a whopping $100 million per year.

But that's not all. Because PGE has evaded its responsibilities under the Clean Air Act since the plant was built in the 1970s, it will cost at least another $600 million to keep the plant going. New air emission controls that should have been in place all along will have to be installed at Boardman. Whether it's carbon cost or cleaning up its air pollution, PGE ratepayers will pay the cost. Surely there is a better use for our money.

Instead of locking us into the polluting coal power of the past, as Oregon's largest electric utility, PGE should be a leader in building a more sustainable clean energy economy. PGE should commit to replacing Boardman by investing in clean energy technologies that will boost the economy, create more jobs than Boardman provides, clean up our air and help the climate recover. That's an investment not just for us, but for our children and grandchildren.

The Bright Future Report authored by the Northwest Energy Coalition shows a clear path for replacing coal with renewables and energy efficiency while meeting our power needs. And studies by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council - the respected, governor-appointed body revising the regional power plan - show that moving off coal is not only possible, but also would cost about the same and without the pollution, cost risk and carbon dioxide emissions.

Moving to energy efficiency and renewable energy also will build on efforts being funded by President Obama's recovery act and provide permanent, local jobs throughout our region. A properly planned phaseout would provide time to build a path for an equitable shutdown of Boardman - one that fully recognizes the community's and the workers' efforts to provide Oregon's energy and creates a sustainable path for them to continue their work in a carbon-constrained economy.

We can either plan now for an equitable shutdown, or face a more costly shutdown in the future.

Now is the time for PGE to look again at recommendations in the integrated resource planning process. One scenario that was considered would shut Boardman down by 2014. But this was dismissed because it would cost three-tenths of 1 percent more than PGE's preferred plan - an amount that equates to about 25 cents a month for the average customer.

A clean energy future is something all of us can bank on, and Oregonians should demand that PGE move with all of us into the 21st Century and provide an effective plan for a clean, renewable energy future.

Robin Everett isassociate regional representative ofSierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign.