Gov. Brown: Oregon leads push for carbon-free power
Gov. Kate Brown says Oregon is the first state in the nation to require its largest utilities to generate all their power carbon-free by 2040, while it helps low-income customers share in benefits and cushions them from negative economic effects.
"It is the most aggressive clean-energy bill in the country," the Democratic chief executive said Tuesday at a ceremony on Electric Island, a joint project that Portland General Electric and Daimler Trucks North America opened three months ago on Portland's Swan Island.
The project has eight charging stations, most open to the public, and can charge up heavy-duty commercial vehicles at much faster rates. It is across from Daimler Trucks headquarters and about one mile from Interstate 5.
The ceremony led by Brown focused attention on four 2021 session bills, all of which Brown signed into law previously, that build on previous legislation to reduce the carbon content of fuels (2015), boost the share of power that utilities must generate from renewable sources (2016) and provide incentives for purchases of electric and other zero-emission vehicles (2017).
"I am proud of the work that Oregon has done to lead the nation in terms of progressive public policy that protects the environment," she said. "House Bill 2021 is the leading standard for this country."
The most far-ranging of the bills is House Bill 2021, which requires Oregon's two major investor-owned utilities — PGE and Pacific Power, which serve more than 70% of customers — to generate all of their power carbon-free by 2040. It sets interim standards of 80% by 2030 and 90% by 2035.
The other bills:
• House Bill 2165: Allows utilities with more than 25,000 customers to charge them for electric vehicle infrastructure, such as charging stations; also increases rebates and lifts the 2024 automatic expiration on rebates that lawmakers approved in 2017 for electric vehicles.
• House Bill 2475: Empowers the Oregon Public Utility Commission to approve discounted utility rates for low-income customers and allows access to a fund by representatives of low-income households or communities disproportionately affected by environmental pollution and participating in PUC proceedings.
• House Bill 3141: Reduces public-purpose charge by Oregon's two biggest utilities from 3% to 1.5% of revenues, extends the charge to 2036 and sets aside proceeds for schools, renewable energy sources, low-income weatherization and low-income utility assistance. The charge has been on the books since 1999 and was scheduled to expire in 2026.
Brown handed out bill-signing pens to participants, although she signed two of the bills in late May while the session was going on, and the other two July 19. Lawmakers passed HB 2021 and 3141 on the final day of the session.
Barely 18 months ago, Oregon lawmakers abruptly adjourned their 2020 session after Republican walkouts denied majority Democrats the required numbers to conduct any business, including broader climate-change legislation pending from the 2019 session.
In addition to Brown issuing an executive order immediately after the 2020 session, two factors led to the passage of the 2021 bills.
One was the active participation of Oregon's major utilities in shaping the bills.
"We appreciate that a clean energy future will take all of us working together," Maria Pope, PGE's chief executive, said in introducing Brown.
"The energy bills being signed here by the governor today will collectively promote an equitable energy transition and support low-income customers. It is an all-hands-on-deck effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, modernize our energy-efficiency programs, enable electric transportation and ensure that vulnerable communities have a full seat at the table."
Scott Bolton, a senior vice president at PacifiCorp, said the bills deserve the well-worn label of "historic."
"The suite of bills we are here to celebrate represents the most expansive energy and utility policy-making that Oregon has taken in over two decades," he said.
"Oregon is advancing decarbonization with a 100% emissions-free electricity standard that also empowers communities to work with their utilities to participate directly in renewable energy solutions. Oregon is updating its utility regulation to ensure that environmental justice communities are not left behind and have a strong voice in how they are served."
The other factor was a set of new voices at the negotiating table representing Oregon's racial and ethnic minorities, many of them also from low-income households.
"This is the first time in history that I and my community have had a voice," Maria Dolores Torres, a mother of three from Beaverton and a member of the Oregon Clean Energy Opportunity Campaign, said.
Oriana Magnera is the energy and climate program manager at Verde, a nonprofit spun off from Hacienda Community Development Corp. in Portland that promotes renewable energy, energy conservation and the creation of related jobs. She credited Khanh Pham, an organizer with the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon and a participant in the successful 2018 campaign to create a clean energy fund in Portland, with encouraging community groups to join the effort. Pham herself was elected to the Oregon House from a Portland district last year.
"Success would not have been possible without the leadership of many environmental justice organizations," Magnera said. "It demonstrates that values-based and community-centric organizing works. Putting good policy in relation to frontline communities first is the path to win."
Nikita Daryanani is the climate and energy policy manager for the Coalition of Communities of Color, based in Portland. She said among the next steps are to tap a $50 million fund available for community-based projects for renewable energy and energy conservation and to ensure that communities have a voice in what happens.
"Passing bills is just half the battle," she said after the event. "Implementation needs to happen in a way that is equitable and centers on the communities that were driving the campaign in the first place."
Among the other organizations involved were Climate Solutions, Northwest Energy Coalition and Renewable Northwest.
The leaders of the 2021 session's energy and environment committees also spoke. Their predecessors in the 2019 session, Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, and Rep. Karin Power, D-Milwaukie, also were recognized.
Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Springfield, said the package of bills deals with Oregon's two major sources of greenhouse-gas pollutants — power generation and the use of gasoline and diesel by cars and trucks.
"We have created the structure and the incentives for the utilities to set up charging stations," Beyer, a former member of the Oregon Public Utility Commission, said.
Beyer also said the package recognizes the importance of conservation in the form of increased weatherization of homes.
"As we say, the cheapest kilowatt is the only thing you don't have to buy — and it is also a savings for the environment," he said.
Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, said the Almeda fire destroyed 2,500 homes — the largest single concentration amid the 2020 Labor Day wildfires that swept Oregon — "and it is not a moment too soon."
"While we understand that wildfire comes from many sources, there is simply no question that our climate change is exacerbating fire with conditions on the ground," she said.
"But make no mistake. Today we celebrate. But tomorrow, or maybe this afternoon, we start planning the next round of climate legislation."
Under Brown's climate-action order last year, the Environmental Quality Commission is in the final stages of writing rules for a plan that coordinates state agency efforts aimed at greenhouse-gas emissions. The plan is scheduled for completion at the end of this year.
"We simply did not give up," Brown said after the event. "We were relentless in pursuing an executive order to cap carbon emissions and have state agencies work to implement that order. We did not give up, and we will not give up. We know that climate change is impacting us right now."
Reach reporter Peter Wong at firstname.lastname@example.org.