SALEM Lawmakers in the Oregon House voted 39-20 Monday to pass a bill that would double the states renewable energy mandate and eliminate coal from the states power mix.
The bill heads next to the state Senate, where lawmakers could make changes in committee before it comes up for a vote.
Critics have raised concerns the bill will cost Oregonians more than utilities have projected, yet do little to reduce the states carbon emissions compared to the status quo. Supporters said the bill could create renewable energy construction and maintenance jobs and is critical for Oregon to meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals.
Republicans cast all of the no votes on Monday, but a handful of Republicans Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, Rep. Mark Johnson, R-Hood River, Rep. Wayne Krieger, R-Gold Beach, Rep. Vic Gilliam, R-Silverton and Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles voted for the measure. State Rep. Brent Barton, D-Oregon City, was excused from the House vote on Monday.
Buehler said he would vote for the bill based on information he received that showed it would have a minimal impact on Oregonians power bills, but a big impact on reducing pollution. Ive been assured after looking at a variety of data from many sources that the impact on rates will be small, Buehler said.
PacificCorp and Portland General Electric, the states largest utilities, released analyses in January that showed House Bill 4036 would increase the cost of power to customers by roughly 1 percent annually in the lead-up to full implementation. PacifiCorps analysis showed the bill would reduce Oregons carbon emissions through 2040 by 35 million tons. That is approximately 58 percent of the total greenhouse gases Oregon emits in one year, according to data from the state Department of Environmental Quality.
Gov. Kate Brown, whose administration instructed utility officials not to go public with concerns about the bill last month, said last week the bill would have to meet several criteria in order for her to support it.
Whats important is that we continue to move Oregon forward towards meeting our greenhouse gas emission reduction goals, that the bill does not stymie economic development in our communities throughout the state, and that it does not cost taxpayers, ratepayers substantially, Brown said late last week.
House Bill 4036, which was written by PacifiCorp and Portland General Electric and environmental groups, would require those utilities to use renewable power sources such as wind and solar to serve at least 50 percent of their customers energy demand in Oregon by 2040. The current state mandate is for 25 percent renewable energy by 2025.
The bill would also require the investor-owned utilities to stop using coal to serve Oregon customers, but there are questions about whether the bill would actually do much to impact the phase-out of coal power in Oregon.
Earlier this month, a Portland General Electric representative said the company already has plans to phase out coal and the bill would actually have a greater impact on the degree to which utilities replace coal with natural gas.
The utilities negotiated the legislation in an attempt to avoid ballot measures planned by the politically active nonprofit Renew Oregon, which represents a coalition of environmental groups, renewable energy companies and other businesses. The environmental groups agreed to drop their efforts to get voters to pass several new renewable energy mandates in November, including an initiative that would eliminate coal power, if lawmakers and the governor approve House Bill 4036.
Brown described those negotiations last week as a good thing and said thats how we like to solve problems in Oregon. Critics of the deal have said the ratepayers who will pay for the new renewable energy projects were not at the table during negotiations.
But Rep. Jessica Vega Pederson, D-Portland, who carried the bill, pointed out the group Citizens Utility Board of Oregon did represent residential ratepayers during the negotiations. They were there representing ratepayer interests, Vega Pederson said ahead of the vote on Monday.
An employee of the Citizens Utility Board who helped to negotiate the deal has been lobbying lawmakers to pass the bill, albeit in a new capacity. Jeff Bissonnette, who was the utility boards policy director during the negotiations, took a new job as executive director and a registered lobbyist for the Oregon Solar Energy Industries Association in late January, according to the state lobbying database.
Bob Jenks, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board, said he and Bissonnette were both involved in the negotiations. I was sort of the lead for (Citizens Utility Board), Jenks said in an interview last week. Jenks said the groups had mostly finished negotiating the legislation by early December, and it was later in December and January where the offer from the solar industries happened.