Kennedy: Oregon coal elimination plan is effective, but not easily replicated

Sean Kennedy

The climate of our world is changing. So, how we do adapt this change without dictating changes that negatively impact specific businesses or industries?

The state of Oregon recently took a big towards answering that question in its region by committing to weaning itself off of coal. The state’s assembly recently passed legislation that will see it eliminate use of coal-fired power in its state by 2035. In addition to the elimination of coal, the regulation includes measures to double the state’s production of energy from renewable sources by 2050. Finally, the legislation will also require the state’s two largest utilities, per a report from the Guardian,to increase their share of clean energy, such as solar and wind, to 50 percent.

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While on the face of it, this legislation might be denounced by some as needless government intrusion into business’s  enterprises to push a green agenda, there are several factors in the context of Oregon’s energy production that make this bill a fair and effective step forward in a unique situation.

Firstly, Oregon doesn’t produce that much coal to begin with. The state ranked 38th in 2011 for coal production, which has only decreased since that point in time. Oregon only has one coal-fired generating station in its entire state, and it had already been scheduled to be closed by 2020 before this bill was introduced.

Furthermore, this bill plays on Oregon’s unique strengths in its energy production. One of the factors that plays into Oregon’s historically low usage of coal-powered energy is the state’s robust production of hydroelectric energy. In fact, over 64 percent of the state’s generating capacity comes from hydroelectric sources. Due to these strengths, the transition to clean energy sources is also estimated to have a negligible impact on energy costs for consumers, with one of the state’s largest utilities estimating that energy costs would rise no more than one percent until 2040.

Now, to be fair, this legislation will impact some businesses, but the state is well within their right in this case to move forward with their elimination of coal anyway. While Oregon does indeed only have one coal-fired plant within its territory, the state also draws significant power, over half its total usage of coal, from coal-fired plants out-of-state in states like Wyoming and Montana. While Oregon’s decision may be detrimental to their business, I believe the state is still justified to do so since those suppliers are from out-of-state. It would be one thing if Oregon’s government was making decisions about its public utilities that negatively impacted businesses in its own area, but they’re not, and they have every right to make a move that will actually help them become  more energy-independent as a result. 

That being said, while this legislation is a great fit for Oregon’s unique energy production capabilities, it is unlikely to be easily replicated in most other states. For example, if this legislation were to be pursued in Colorado, it would stand to impact 33 coal-fired plants as opposed to one. The respect for the independence of energy producers will be harder to balance with the interests of developing renewable energy in most states which rely far more heavily on coal for their energy needs. That being said, states across the nation like our own should take example from Oregon and pursue action to transition to far greater use of renewable energy in their communities while accommodating for the rights of all energy producers. That’s far easier said than done, but Oregon has chosen to lead the nation in demonstrating that a successful balance can be struck. We should follow their example.

Collegian Senior Columnist Sean Kennedy can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @seanskenn.