The historic clean energy law that passed Oregon’s Legislature with bipartisan support this month will have regional, national, and international implications.
Oregon Governor Kate Brown’s ceremonial signing of the state’s pioneering Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Act at an elementary school that recently installed solar panels was both symbolic and appropriate. The new clean energy law helps address the greatest environmental threat of our time and protect future generations from the worst effects of climate change.
Oregon becomes the first state in the nation to legislate an end to the use of coal-fired electricity, with a deadline of no later than 2035. The law also requires that at least half of the electricity supplied by the state’s largest utilities — Pacific Power and Portland General Electric, which together serve 70 percent of Oregon’s electricity needs — come from new renewable sources such as solar and wind power.
And it directs those utilities to speed the deployment of charging stations for emissions-free electric vehicles. Plugging electric vehicles into renewable energy will help cut emissions from the transportation sector, which is Oregon’s largest source of carbon pollution.
When the requirements of SB 1547 are combined with Oregon’s legacy hydropower resources, the state’s electric sector will be 70 percent to 90 percent carbon-free by 2040. And that will give Oregon one of the cleanest energy portfolios in the country.
This groundbreaking law is the result of a remarkable collaboration of utility, consumer, and environmental interests (including the National Resources Defense Council) that all worked together to ensure cleaner air and reliable, affordable electricity for Oregonians.
According to a study by Oregon Global Warming Commission staff, the law will cut Oregon’s electric sector carbon emissions in half by 2030. Analyses by Pacific Power and Renewable Northwest find that achieving these dramatic reductions would raise electricity rates by no more than 1% — and, given the strong downward direction that wind and solar energy prices have taken over the last decade, could well reduce them.
Important outside of Oregon, too
Approving the nation’s first legislation to fully transition away from coal-powered electricity just weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily delayed the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan to limit power plant pollution shows Oregon’s leadership in the fight against climate change. And it will have an impact far beyond Oregon’s borders because:
- It comes on the heels of the Paris agreement by 187 nations responsible for about 97 percent of the world’s climate pollution announced specific national emissions reduction plans for climate action after 2020.
- It underscores the determination of state and local governments to combat dangerous climate change and is a strong reminder that action on climate at the state level can — and must — continue despite the Supreme Court delay stay of the Clean Power Plan.
- It will help clean up the energy supply across the western United States. In fact, an analysis of the legislation’s expected impact shows it could cut carbon pollution by 30 million metric tons — equivalent to the annual emissions of 6.4 million cars.
Why the region will benefit
Although one-third of Oregon’s electricity today comes from coal-fired plants, the only in-state facility was already slated to retire by 2020. However, the two affected utilities supply power to Oregon from coal facilities they own in Utah, Wyoming, and Montana. By ending Oregon’s investments, the market for dirty energy will shrink, which should speed the retirement of those aging plants.
At the same time, the law doubles the amount of energy from new renewable resources that Pacific Power and Portland General Electric must provide to their Oregon customers. Therefore, the utilities will be obliged to look first to wind, solar, and other clean energy sources — and not new base-load natural gas turbines — to replace those aged coal plants.
And the nation, too
Oregon now joins the growing list of states that are moving aggressively to reduce carbon pollution and promote clean energy. California and New York, for example, have also mandated that half of their electricity come from renewables. Hawaii is requiring that all of its power comes from renewables by 2045.
These advances reflect the growing concern that climate change poses an urgent threat to our health, environment and economy — and the recognition that clean energy offers new opportunities for clean air as well as reliable electricity service and new jobs.
Noah Long is a senior attorney in the NRDC’s energy program. This blog, written in collaboration with Angus Duncan, was originally posted at NRDC Switchboard.