Oregon might get off coal completely, that would put them in some pretty good company
December 2nd - Coal-fired power plants are the number one cause of air pollution in the US and are increasingly expensive to maintain. As plants age, repairing or replacing them often doesn’t make sense next to cleaner less capital-intensive alternatives. This is the argument that organizations like the Sierra Club are making across the country as energy providers decide whether to maintain or transition off coal use. Over the last 5 years, the Club’s Beyond Coal campaign has successfully convinced utilities to close 190 of the 523 coal-fired plants in the US. While there are many closures already happening, the EPA’s new Clean Power Plan will likely usher in a whole new wave of transition. These new rules are designed to improve air quality and health by reducing harmful pollutants from energy production across the country; it’s likely many more plants will not meet the new standards and utilities are already making plans to comply.
Thanks to an upcoming ballot initiative Oregon could be the first state in the country to have a public vote on using coal. This would be an historic statement for the public to decide its energy future but that doesn’t mean the Beaver State is alone in moving away from our dirtiest energy source. Places the world over are getting off coal and on to other sources.
At the beginning of 2015 Michigan Governor Rick Synder (R) announced that one of his top priorities of the year was to wean Michigan off coal. He suggested a variety of cleaner sources could be substituted and that the Clean Power Plan laid out a blue print for how to do it. That all came to a head earlier last month when the he announced his support for a bill that has just been approved by the Michigan House to drastically increase energy efficiency and sets a goal of 30% renewables for the state. At a closure of the BC Cobb coal plant in Michigan, Governor Snyder made several statements about his state’s energy future: “We have the short-term economic dislocation but it's a good thing for us, longer term, to move away from coal to cleaner sources of energy, and more efficient sources in some fashion".
Canada’s most populous province has been on a decade long process to end its coal use. In 2003 the province generated 7,500 megawatts of coal power. By 2014 the province closed its last major coal plant (there is a single small facility for peak use). It is the largest industrialized region in North America to make such a dramatic transition. Air quality in the region has improved significantly with particulates in the air dropping 40% from 2000 to 2010. (check out Yale360’s 2013 story on their transition) The province has seen little to no price increases due to renewable integration and is now on track to get 25-33% of its electricity from non-polluting sources.
In an unprecedented move, the UK announced early last month that it would phase out all coal-fired power plants by 2025. This met a previous pledge set by Prime Minister David Cameron to curb coal use and phase in a clean energy era for the British Isles. From UK Energy Secretary Amber Rudd, "We are tackling a legacy of under-investment and ageing power stations which we need to replace with alternatives that are reliable, good value for money, and help to reduce our emissions. It cannot be satisfactory for an advanced economy like the UK to be relying on polluting, carbon-intensive 50-year-old coal-fired power stations. Let me be clear: this is not the future.”
It's no secret that there is growing conversation around our collective energy future. Schools like University of Washington, cities like Portland (and Multanomah County) and major companies like GM have pledged to faze out coal use. Changes domestically are part of a larger discussion happening across the world. This reached a fever pitch as the “largest gathering of world leaders in history” meets at the world climate conference in Paris this week.
Oregon is set to step out ahead with its own voice on this discussion. Our state still gets about 30% of its energy from coal. Its harmful for health and its increasingly becoming a drastically expensive option to maintain. But it isn’t something the state has to be stuck with forever. Countries and states around the world have shown that a coal-free future works and Oregon can lead by being the first place to vote on choosing that future for its self.
- Nick Abraham Editor, Oil Check Northwest
[email protected] @oilchecknw