Ignore the naysayers and pass the no-coal bill
About a decade ago, Oregon made a choice: We would live up to our pioneering history and forge a new path towards clean energy and cleaner air. We chose to steer Oregon towards renewable energy and away from polluting sources of electricity. We passed a law that required Oregon's major utilities to gradually transition so that 25 percent of the power that lights our homes and businesses would come from renewable resources such as wind, solar, wave and tidal resources by 2025.
We helped pass that law, the renewable portfolio standard (RPS), and we can tell you it was fought every step of the way. People wondered whether the lights would stay on, whether their bills would go up, whether pollution would, in fact, go down. Opponents tried to paint this innovative idea as risky and just plain unlikely to work. But we chose to lead the way towards a clean energy future, and it is working.
Today, the lights go on, our bills are minimally affected and Oregon's major utilities have cut their greenhouse gas pollution by 30 percent. Not only that, but Oregon's investment in renewable energy has spurred economic growth in Oregon and imitators in other states. By 2014, the RPS helped bring in $9.8 billion in investments for renewable energy in Oregon. The RPS has been integral in creating some of the 68,709 jobs in green goods and services. Oregon ranks second in the nation in green sector jobs because of our innovative ideas and policies. From New York to Hawaii, 29 states and territories have adopted similar laws.
It now seems that some of our esteemed former colleagues and legislators have forgotten our fight — and our success — and are recycling the same old arguments against taking the next step towards Oregon's clean energy future. Perhaps we patted ourselves on the back for so long we simply forgot to keep forging ahead.
Oregon has the opportunity now to build on our pioneering history by passing the Clean Electricity and Coal Transition bill. This bill would set Oregon on a path to eliminate coal from powering our homes and businesses, while simultaneously doubling the amount of clean energy used in Oregon by expanding the renewable portfolio standard our state has in place now.
Shockingly, the same old arguments, still unfounded, are coming up in the current legislative session. Will the lights stay on? Will bills go up? Will pollution go down? If history is any guide, the answers are clear. Yes, no and absolutely. This bill will cut carbon pollution from electricity in half in Oregon. Portland General Electric forecasted that they would reduce CO2 emissions over 30 million metric tons between 2025 and 2040 — the equivalent of taking 6.4 million cars off the road.
So now we must ask ourselves: Are we going to lead the way into this young century or fall behind? California, Hawaii and Colorado, among others, now have more ambitious renewable standards than Oregon. Utilities have said they're making decisions right now on how to power Oregon's future.
We urge the Legislature to pass the Clean Electricity and Coal Transition bill and ensure that Oregon leads the way to a cleaner, more prosperous future.
This column was originally published in the Oregonian on February 25, 2016.