Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites


Supporters guide renewable energy plan through end-of-session shoals

Share

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP/EO MEDIA GROUPSALEM — Lawmakers in the Oregon Senate could on Wednesday vote on two competing bills to double the state’s renewable energy mandate, thanks to maneuvers by Democrats and Republicans to either fast track or delay the legislation.

The controversial legislation, which is a top priority for utilities, environmental groups and Democrats in both chambers, could be among the last major policy proposals lawmakers vote on before the end of the short legislative session.

Both bills would require PacifiCorp and Portland General Electric to use sources such as solar and wind to serve 50 percent of their customers’ energy demand by 2040. The bills would also require the two investor-owned utilities to stop using coal power to serve their Oregon customers.

However, there are also significant differences between the bills including caps on how much the utilities can raise rates each year to cover their costs plus a profit on new renewable energy facilities. The first bill, House Bill 4036, calls for the Oregon Public Utility Commission to adopt regulations that encourage competitive bidding and diverse ownership of renewable energy facilities, something not required under the second bill, Senate Bill 1547. That second bill also includes incentives to boost wood-burning power plants.

Senate Bill 1547 has more momentum, thanks to support from environmental groups and the two investor-owned utilities. Brad Reed, a spokesman for the politically active nonprofit Renew Oregon which represents environmental and renewable energy groups, said Senate Bill 1547 appears to have the clearest path forward. “And this bill enjoys support from clear majorities in both the House and Senate,” Reed wrote in an email Monday afternoon.

Utility representatives have also said they dislike the 3 percent annual cap on renewable energy rate increases in the first bill, and they would prefer the 4 percent cap on renewable rate increases in the second bill. The utilities can request the renewable energy rate increases on top of broader periodic rate increases.

House lawmakers already voted 39-20 to pass House Bill 4036, in mid-February. After news reports that Gov. Kate Brown’s administration had told public utility commissioners not to go public with their concerns about the bill, a Senate committee added language to the bill to protect consumers and ensure utilities use competitive bidding to acquire cost-efficient new sources of renewable energy.

Next, Republicans in the Senate, who oppose the bill, brought it to a standstill by requesting that lawyers draft a minority report. There is no deadline to produce the report, so the move threatened to prevent the measure from coming to a vote before the end of the session.

Supporters of the bill, including Democrats in both chambers and Rep. Mark Johnson, R-Hood River, responded with a plan on Thursday to insert a new version of the renewable energy mandate legislation into a different bill, Senate Bill 1547, that had already passed in the Senate. Lawmakers negotiated that legislation in closed-door meetings with representatives of the utilities, environmental and renewable energy groups.

Although two representatives of the Public Utility Commission attended the negotiations, none of the public utility commissioners were involved nor did they testify last week when a House committee voted to insert the negotiated language into Senate Bill 1547. Members of the Public Utility Commission have said an earlier version of the legislation would be costly for consumers but do little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal plants.

Many House Republicans also oppose the bill and they decided to try the same delay tactic as their Senate colleagues by requesting a minority report. However, it did not buy much time because of different rules in the House. The minority report would make several changes to Senate Bill 1547, including making it easier for cities to start new municipal utilities by giving them three years to meet the renewable energy mandate, according to House Republican Office communications director Preston Mann.

By Monday, Senate Republicans had decided to withdraw their minority report, allowing House Bill 4036 to be scheduled for a vote Wednesday.

Caitie Butler, communications director for the Oregon Senate Republicans, wrote in an email Monday that Republicans withdrew the request “because (House lawmakers) stripped most of the ratepayer protections out of the stuffed Senate bill ...” Butler wrote that Senate Republicans still do not support either bill. Senate Bill 1547 is scheduled for a House floor vote on Tuesday, which means it could also go to the Senate for a final up or down vote Wednesday. House Bill 4036 would have to go back to the House for a final up or down vote.

The Capital Bureau is a collaboration between EO Media Group and Pamplin Media Group. Hillary Borrud can be reached at 503-364-4431 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..