Final vote set Wednesday on renewable energy bill
SALEM A bill to double Oregons renewable energy mandate is on track to get a final vote in the state Senate Wednesday, after lawmakers in the House voted 38-20 to pass the legislation on Tuesday. Under the bill, Senate Bill 1547, the states two investor-owned utilities would have to use sources such as solar and wind to serve 50 percent of their customers energy demand by 2040. It would also require utilities to stop paying for coal power to serve Oregon customers, something at least one of the utilities is already on track to do.
The House vote sets up a possible duel in the Senate with a nearly identical bill, which would also double the renewable energy mandate and force PacifiCorp and Portland General Electric to stop paying for coal power. Both are scheduled for Senate votes on Wednesday.
House Bill 4036, which is already in the Senate, had stalled there in the face of a Republican maneuver to delay a vote. In response, Democrats stuffed a modified version of the bill into Senate Bill 1547, which received the House vote Tuesday.
Since an earlier version of that bill already passed the Senate, it only needs a final up or down vote in the Senate before it would go to Gov. Kate Brown for a signature. If the Senate votes to pass House Bill 4036, it would still have to go back to the House for a final up or down vote.
There are some differences between the two bills.
Senate Bill 1547 expands incentives for biomass power plants and power plants that burn garbage, and it allows the utilities to seek rate increases to pay for renewable energy that is up to 4 percent more expensive than traditional sources such as natural gas. House Bill 4036 contains a 3 percent cost cap and calls for the Oregon Public Utility Commission to adopt regulations that encourage competitive bidding and diverse ownership of renewable energy facilities.
The legislation ran into controversy before the legislative session began, when The Oregonian reported that Browns administration had instructed public utility commissioners not to go public with their concerns that the bill would be expensive for consumers yet do little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal plants.
The House vote on Senate Bill 1547 on Tuesday largely followed party lines with support from Democrats, although several Republicans also voted for the bill. Two lawmakers were excused from the vote.
Rep. Jessica Vega Pederson, D-Portland, said it was important to pass Senate Bill 1547 because it will impact the type of power sources the utilities choose to replace coal. A representative of Portland General Electric told lawmakers last month the legislation could determine how much the utility relies on natural gas, as opposed to variable sources such as wind and solar, as it phases out coal power.
Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, said the legislation had improved after a series of modifications by lawmakers and other interested parties but still needed more work.