Oregon passed legislation this week requiring the state to shut down coal power plants and use fewer hydroelectric dams, a move critics of the bill say effectively bans cheap electricity.
Gov. Kate Brown signed the bill into law Tuesday, which mandates that Oregon eliminate all coal power plants within its borders by 2035, and requires the state’s two largest utilities to increase their share of green power to 50 percent of the state’s demand by 2040. But the bill limits its definition of green power to wind and solar energy and excludes hydropower, which supplies more than half of Oregon’s electricity.
The Sierra Club and other environmental organizations called the legislation “historic”, and its supporters touted the planned transition away from coal power towards green energy. But critics of the bill said it will cause electricity prices to rise, to the possible detriment of the state’s economy and its poorest residents.
“Oregon, along with Idaho and Washington, is blessed with the most inexpensive electricity in the country provided by the big dams on the Columbia River,” Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The bill passed by Oregon’s legislature will require utilities to replace much of this inexpensive renewable hydropower with much more expensive renewable power from windmills and solar panels. The result will be much higher electric bills in a state that is burdened with high income taxes.”
Raising the price of electricity is especially harmful for the poor, who spend far higher proportions of their income on energy than the average household, according to a study by the Pacific Research Institute. As essential goods like electricity becomes more expensive, the cost of producing goods and services that use electricity increases, effectively raising the price of most everything.
Hydropower provides the majority of Oregon’s electricity, according to the Energy Information Administration, but the legislation does not define it as green energy. Environmental groups typically oppose hydropower and dams, although they don’t produce pollution or contribute to global warming. The Sierra Club, for example opposes hydropower because the “environmental effects of damming rivers can be severe,” but the organization never specifies these effects.
Coal currently provides about a third of Oregon’s electricity, but most of this power is imported from Utah, Montana or Wyoming. There is only one coal-fired plant in Oregon, the 36-year-old Boardman facility, which is supposed to be shut down by 2020.
Oregon has a long history of extreme energy policies. Last November, Portland’s city council unanimously approved a resolution effectively banning any new gas stations or facilities from transporting or storing oil, gasoline, coal, and natural gas within the city.
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