Posted by: bkivey | 9 February 2016

How Green Is My Valley

The Oregon Legislature normally meets biennially, but legislation was enacted allowing that august body to meet in short sessions in ‘off’ years. One of the primary bills in this years session is HB 4036, otherwise known as the Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Plan. The goal is to eliminate electricity generation from coal-fired plants by 2035, and require utilities to provide 50% of their electricity from renewable resources by 2040. The bill has brought together supporters ranging from utilities to environmental groups, though for vastly different reasons.

The legislation is a variation of ‘cap and trade’ called ‘cap and invest’ that through a complex system of investment credits allows power companies to acquire credits through investment in renewable power plants and electrically powered transit systems. The credits can be used to offset penalties incurred if the percentage of coal-generated electricity exceeds the capped amount in any given year.

Environmental groups support the proposal because coal is the bogeyman du jour, and for most people in those organizations their understanding of power generation and use only goes as far as coal Bad, wind and solar Good. Their literature related to the legislation tout the environmental and cost benefits of transitioning from coal.

The utilities support the legislation because they and their ratepayers are on the hook for crippling expensive pollution controls to be phased in over the next several years. Requirements that were pushed through by the very  environmental groups citing cost-savings in their material. Those pollution control requirements are why Oregon’s only coal-fired plant will be closed in 2020. Supporting HB 4036 is a way of green-washing a necessity into a virtue.

Oregon currently generates 40% of its power requirements through hydro, so eliminating coal-fired plants isn’t as much of a hardship as it would be in many other places, and Oregon has a relatively small population. However, even the most ardent renewable power advocate has to admit that wind and solar are intermittent supplies at best. Because they are environmentally dependent, they can never supply what is known as base power: power that’s reliably available around the clock. Implied but not stated by all concerned is that natural gas-fired power generation will pick up the load in the absence of coal. As there aren’t any gas-fired power plants under construction in the state, utilities are going to have to buy that power out-of-state, negating much of the local benefits supporters are fond of citing.

HB 4036 does have a provision for emergency exemptions if power companies can’t meet reliability standards. I expect the use of that provision will rise as the percentage of allowable coal generated electricity decreases. Because otherwise it’s going to be a world of rolling blackouts, but the Greens can part themselves on the back. They’ll just have to do it in the cold and dark.

Life in America

There’s a gun show in a neighboring county this weekend (for readers abroad, a gun show is a convention space filed with firearms, knives, and related accessories for sale). The radio ad is (I think) unintentionally amusing:




No ambiguity there.



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