Oregon is the first state to eradicate coal from its power supply through legislation and now boasts some of the most stringent demands for renewable energy among its state peers.
The new law will wipe out coal-generated energy in phases through 2030 and requires utilities to provide half of customers’ power with renewable sources by 2040, doubling the state’s previous standard.
“Oregon is known to be a leader in clean-energy programs, investing in energy efficiency and recognizing the risk of climate change,” said Gov. Kate Brown, who signed the measure surrounded by students at a Portland elementary school that’s powered by solar panels.
Environmental experts and advocates say the law’s coal phase-out component is precedent-setting for lawmakers considering similar moves in their own states, although Hawaii and Vermont have long-standing histories of running coal-free.
The renewables portion thrusts Oregon to the top ranks of a handful of other states that have renewable mandates of 50 percent or more. Hawaii, for instance, has a 100-percent requirement by 2045 while Massachusetts has 1-percent annual increase indefinitely, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Coal, climate and politics
Coal and renewables are among the key talking points that drive the national debate over climate change, which is a top agenda item for Democrats and the party’s presidential campaigns this year. Oregon’s new law also aligns with some of President Obama’s statements on the topic over the years.
“We’ve got to accelerate the transition away from old, dirtier energy sources. Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future — especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels,” Obama said during his final State of the Union address in January.
But Democrats’ efforts for tighter regulations on the energy industry are at odds with Republicans who are trying to block Obama’s Clean Power Plan in court.
Even for progressive Oregon, the new anti-coal law — a negotiated deal between the state’s utilities and environmentalists — wasn’t an easy pass.
Oregon GOP lawmakers, the minority party in both statehouse chambers, went to great lengths to stop the measure with tactics that slowed down the entire legislative process. The GOP raised concerns about cost increases to consumers’ energy bills and questioned whether the environmental benefits were overstated.
“Today, Gov. Brown gave her stamp of approval to a new renewable energy mandate that will cost residential electricity customers in Oregon $190 more each year until 2040,” Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli, among the law’s most outspoken opponents, said Friday.
He argued the law “lines the pockets of the green energy industry at the expense of working Oregonians who get nothing in return.”