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Lawmakers expected to vote on coal phaseout

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Challenge is 'whether we can get the language right' for 2016 session.


House Speaker Tina Kotek says lawmakers are poised to ratify a deal that commits Oregon’s largest utilities to phase out purchases of coal-fired power and obtain half their energy from renewable sources by 2040.

The deal involves rewriting the 2007 law setting Oregon’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, which now requires utilities by 2025 to obtain 25 percent of their power from solar, wind and other renewable sources. Existing hydropower is excluded.

“I think the challenge there is whether we can get the language right in time for the session,” Kotek, a Portland Democrat, told the Portland Tribune editorial board.

“It’s a complex deal that moves us to a different standard of emissions reduction, but does it in a way that can protect ratepayers.”

Lawmakers start their 35-day 2016 session on Feb. 1.

Although there are limits on the number of bills in the session, Kotek says a House committee already had a placeholder bill in anticipation of a deal coming together ahead of the session.

Under the deal, Portland General Electric and Pacific Power would move to eliminate coal-fired power from their energy portfolios by a target of 2030 — and no later than 2035. The utilities would obtain half their energy from renewable sources by 2040.

The deal was negotiated with Renew Oregon — a coalition that had aimed at qualifying a ballot measure for the Nov. 8 general election — and the Sierra Club, a leading opponent of coal. Lawmakers failed in their 2015 session to advance a similar bill, prompting the coalition to launch a ballot initiative.

Coal-fired plants are leading contributors to carbon emissions and air pollutants.

Portland General Electric currently obtains 24 percent of its overall power from coal, although it plans to shut down Oregon’s only coal-fired power plant at Boardman by 2020. It is a minority owner of the Colstrip power plant in Montana.

Pacific Power obtains 61 percent of its overall power from coal, and is seeking to reduce that to 36 percent of its mix by 2030.

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