SALEM Republican senators Thursday called for Oregons public utility commissioners to testify on a controversial bill to double the states existing renewable energy mandate.
The legislation would also require the states two investor-owned utilities, PacifiCorp and Portland General Electric, to stop buying coal power to serve Oregon customers.
In a press release, Senate Republicans pointed to an article published Wednesday in The Oregonian which said members of the Public Utility Commission had concerns about the bill but were silenced by the administration of Gov. Kate Brown. PacifiCorp and Portland General Electric are state-regulated monopolies, and the Public Utility Commission is responsible for vetting the utilities requests to raise rates.
Republicans sent the request in a letter to the chair of the committee holding hearings on the bill, Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Springfield. The Senate Committee on Business and Transportation is currently scheduled to hold another public hearing on the bill Monday afternoon, and could also then vote on the legislation. The House passed the bill last week. Beyer could not be reached for comment late Thursday afternoon.
The unwillingness of the governor to listen to the concerns of utility regulators experts on how Oregons utilities function, is concerning, the Republicans wrote in the letter to Beyer, who is a former public utility commissioner. The letter was signed by Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, and eight other Republicans.
The public utility commissioners have expressed concern in emails and other correspondence released by the state that the legislation would be costly for ratepayers yet do little to reduce carbon emissions in Oregon.
Even if the public utility commissioners testify before the Senate committee, they might not be able to say whether the utilities have produced reasonable estimates of how much the legislation would cost consumers. PacifiCorp and Portland General Electric estimated the bill would cause rates to increase by roughly 1 percent annually, on top of any other rate increases. This week, the Pamplin Media Group/EO Media Group Capital Bureau reported the Public Utility Commission still had not finished vetting the cost projections from the utilities.
House Bill 4036, which was written by the two utilities and environmental groups along with the Citizens Utility Board of Oregon, would require Portland General Electric and PacifiCorp to use renewable power sources such as wind and solar to serve at least 50 percent of their customers energy demand in Oregon by 2040, up from the current state mandate of 25 percent renewable energy by 2025.