Environmental groups gathered Wednesday outside the Portland General Electric headquarters in Portland to protest the utility’s effort to permit two new natural gas plants to replace its coal-fired power plant, which is scheduled to shut down in 2020.
The protesters carried signs that read: “We want #cleanenergy not #frackedgas,” and they danced to their own rendition of the song “YMCA” that asked: “Why, PGE? The wind can do it, so why, PGE?” The protest coincided with a PGE shareholders meeting at the utility's headquarters in downtown Portland.
Mia Reback of the climate activist group 350.org told a gathering of a few dozen people that building new gas-fired plants would not only go against the climate goals set out by the city of Portland and the state of Oregon, but it would also set the world back in meeting its targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions globally.
“If we want to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, we can’t build any new fossil fuel infrastructure,” she said. “We want clean and renewable energy.”
PGE is in the midst of developing its five-year plan for providing electricity to the Portland metro area. The plan includes the option of building two new natural gas plants in Boardman, Oregon, to replace the power that will be lost when its existing coal plant shuts down.
In order to have the option of building those plants, PGE says it needed to start the permitting process. But the utility hasn’t decided yet whether that option will offer the lowest cost and least risk for its customers.
“We have options on the table to pursue those plants if they’re needed,” said Brett Simms, director of resource planning for PGE. “What we do know is PGE has a plan to close its Oregon coal plant at the end of 2020, and we have a need to replace it.”
Simms said the utility hasn’t decided whether burning natural gas to generate electricity will be the best way to replace the power from its coal plant. Other options include buying about 600 megawatts of electricity from existing gas-fired plants and hydroelectric dams while also adding hundreds of megawatts of new solar and wind power.
“We also plan to add a lot of renewables,” he said. “At the same time, we know our customers want and need on-demand electricity. When they flip the light switch the lights need to come on.”
That means not all of the utility’s electrical supply can come from renewable wind and solar energy, he said.
“We need some plants we can turn on and off, and right now natural gas plants provide that capability.”
Reback said with battery storage, PGE could store wind and solar energy so that it would be available when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining. With all the renewable options, she said, building new natural gas plants shouldn’t even be on the table.
“They should not be considering it,” she said. “It’s 2017. Fossil fuels should not be an option. PGE should be showing their leadership in transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy resources.”
In response to Reback's claim that battery storage would allow PGE to use wind and solar instead of natural gas, a spokeswoman for PGE said "according to our resource experts, at this point in time battery storage technology doesn’t have the capacity or longevity to meet our needs, let alone do so cost-effectively."
The Oregon Public Utility Commission will take public comments on PGE’s integrated resource plan at a meeting in Portland May 15. The final plan is scheduled to be approved by August.