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What’s Happening Out West? Oregon’s Push for Greater Energy Efficiency

Burning coal is the world’s largest contributor to climate change, and the state of Oregon has ambitious goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions over the next several decades. However, these goals cannot be met without eliminating coal from the electricity sector. More than 30% of Oregon homes and businesses still rely on dirty coal power for energy, and this energy comes from both in-state and out of state plants.

In March of 2016, Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed landmark legislation to transition from coal to clean, renewable energy. The Oregon Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Plan will remove coal from Oregon’s electricity by 2030 and double the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard to 50% by 2040. The bill will:

• increase the amount of wind and solar energy supplied to Oregon homes and businesses
• attract clean energy investment to the region
• protect ratepayers from the growing financial risks of coal-fired generation
• encourage expansion of electric vehicle infrastructure - a key strategy for reducing carbon pollution in the transportation sector
• bring the benefits of solar power to low income households through an innovative community solar program.

This climate legislation raises the bar for de-carbonizing electrical power in other states. Because the plan includes such a large increase in renewable energy, it prevents Oregon’s emissions from plateauing if there were merely a transition to natural gas, and actually helps to decrease the state’s overall emissions by about 15%.
The renewable energy component of the bill requires utilities to reach
27% renewable power by 2025
35% by 2030
40% by 2035
50% by 2040 – the highest renewable energy percentage in the country.

Natural gas may still have a role to play in the energy mix, but only as a backup resource for wind and solar, not to produce base-load power. Passage of this plan is especially timely since utilities need to decide how they will replace coal plants that are scheduled to close in the coming years.

The plan is also an important step toward electrifying the transportation sector in Oregon. Switching from gasoline and diesel fuel to electrically run vehicles is a key strategy for meeting Oregon’s climate change goals. The plan encourages this transition by enabling utilities to make prudent investments in charging stations and related electric vehicle infrastructure in their service territories.

This success demonstrates the real power of the climate movement when diverse interests work together to build a wide-spread coalition fighting for change that benefits multiple constituencies. This campaign sets an important example for other states looking to enact change and be environmental champions.