Oregon is on the brink of enacting one of the most aggressive clean energy standards in the country, after the Senate passed House Bill 2021 on June 25 with a 16-11 vote.

The bill now heads to Gov. Kate Brown for her signature, and when that happens, Oregon will be just the eighth state in the country to commit to 100 percent clean or renewable energy, joining Washington, California, Hawaii, New Mexico, New York, Maine and Virginia.

Oregon's bill has the fastest timeline in the country for reaching that goal.

When the final step in California and Washington's clean energy goals are reached in 2045, electricity all up and down the West Coast will be 100 percent clean.

The Senate vote came as a heat wave began to take hold of the region, pushing temperatures to historic levels for three consecutive days.

HB 2021 requires Portland General Electric, PacifiCorp and Electric Service Suppliers to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below baseline levels by 2030, to 90 percent below by 2035 and to 100 percent below by 2040.

The bill also prohibits construction or expansion of fossil-fueled power plants and establishes a $50 million Community Renewable Investment Fund to be managed by the Oregon Department of Energy that will invest in small, community renewable energy projects around the state.

"This common-sense approach to invest in small scale and community-based projects is the right move to protect our environment" Sen. Lee Beyer (D-Springfield), who chairs the Senate Committee on Energy and Environment and co-carried the bill on the Senate floor, said in a prepared statement.

Under the measure, PGE and PacifiCorp must file a clean energy plan, "based on or included in" an integrated resource plan filing, no earlier than Jan. 1, 2022, and no later than 180 days after the IRP is filed with the Oregon PUC.

"To address our climate crisis, we need to shift to cleaner and cleaner electricity," Sen. Michael Dembrow (D-Portland), who also co-carried the bill, said in a prepared statement. "House Bill 2021 will serve to enhance Oregon's resilience and makes targeted, necessary investments as we recover from overlapping and ongoing crises."

The utilities could pause meeting the GHG targets for reliability issues or if the needed investments become an economic hardship for customers. The utilities are already reducing their GHG levels based on current state policy and company goals.

Each utility must also form a Community Benefits and Impacts Advisory Group made up of "representatives of environmental justice communities and low-income ratepayers" or other affected entities within the utility's service territory.

The advisory group of each utility will file a biennial report with the Oregon PUC that highlights "opportunities to increase contracting with businesses owned by women, veterans or Black, Indigenous, or People of Color."

The reports will also discuss collaboration with environmental justice communities, compliance with the clean energy targets and "social, economic, or environmental justice co-benefits that result from the electric company's investments, contracts or internal practices."

The bill requires contractors and subcontractors working on new projects of 10 MW or larger, or a repowering project of at least 80 MW, to employ apprentices, women-owned businesses, veterans and minorities. The measure says "at least 15 percent of total work hours" must be performed by apprentices and sets an "aspirational target" of 15 percent total work hours for women, minorities, veterans and people with disabilities.

Meredith Connelly, director of Climate Solutions in Oregon, said in a blog post that "going forward, all major renewable energy projects built in Oregon will be creating good, family wage jobs and benefits for the workers making our clean energy future possible.

"The bill has the strongest labor and apprenticeship provisions ever included in a 100 percent clean law. HB 2021 also contains a $50 million investment for community-based renewable energy projects to ensure marginalized and frontline communities throughout the state benefit from the clean energy transition."

The bill also acknowledges the need for an organized wholesale market in the region, saying that "existing and future electricity markets will play a critical role in transforming the elector sector" as well as "enabling load serving entities to reduce costs and serve load reliably by accessing resource and load diversity."

"Acknowledging the inherently regional and multistate nature of electricity markets, the State of Oregon should coordinate and collaborate with other states to achieve the goal of aligning accounting methodologies where possible while also ensuring market rules do not undermine state policy objectives," the bill says.

Sources familiar with the bill say it started to take shape last summer during a statewide listening tour for the failed HB 2020, which would have created the nation's second cap-and-trade carbon emission market, but failed when Senate Republicans denied a quorum by leaving the state to prevent Democrats from using their slim majority to pass the bill.

While the bill faced little resistance in either chamber—the House passed the bill along a largely party-line vote on June 24 and Republicans didn't flee the Capitol this time—but still some Republican Senators questioned the wisdom of the bill that they say will increase electricity costs.

"Hiking Oregonians' energy costs during an economic recovery is one of the dumbest ideas I have ever heard of," Sen. Fred Girod (R-Stayton) said in a prepared statement. "This bill just adds insult to injury to the countless Oregonians who have endured massive hardship over the last year and a half."

While HB 2021 addresses future emissions, it doesn't take any existing natural gas-fired power plants off line.

PGE currently has over 1,800 MW of natural gas-fired power in its generating portfolio, with three of the five power plants coming on line after 2007.

"HB 2021 does not call for the removal of gas plants from service; rather, to meet the 2040 emissions goals, these gas plants will need to be addressed in some way—whether that is by implementing carbon capture, a carbon-free fuel source, or replacement with non-emitting resources," Andrea Platt, spokeswoman for PGE, told Clearing Up via email.

A study released July 2 by Renewable Northwest, Grid Lab and the Clean Energy Transition Institute finds those natural gas power plants can stay on line as a capacity resource through 2045.

The study, which examines pathways to 100 percent clean energy, says Oregon can meet the 2035 emissions goals by eliminating coal-fired generation, which is scheduled to happen in 2035, and also electrifying transportation and buildings. It also assumes "the Western grid operates as a single balancing area."

The study also shows 20 GW of offshore wind being built between 2035 and 2050, much of which can be exported around the Western Interconnection. It also shows a need for 3.4 GW of new transmission capacity to be built into Idaho between 2030 and 2050, with 6 GW of new capacity into California needed in the final decade of decarbonization.

"Such investments, while further out in the future, are critical to enable successful decarbonization," the study says.

Both PGE and PacifiCorp have been working to decarbonize their generating portfolios.

In November 2020, PGE announced a goal of reducing GHG emissions in its portfolio by 80 percent by 2030, and set an aspirational goal for zero greenhouse gas emissions in its generating portfolio by 2040. The utility has been adding solar and wind projects to its portfolio, along with contracts for hydroelectricity, and will release a request for proposals later this year for 150 aMW of renewable energy and 150 MW of dispatchable, non-emitting resources.

In 2020, PacifiCorp released one of the largest RFPs for renewables in the industry and this month announced a final shortlist of 3,250 MW of wind, solar and battery (CU No. 2009 [12]).

Nikita Daryanani, climate and energy policy manager at the Coalition of Communities of Color in Portland, said Oregonians in every part of the state will benefit from more clean energy, good quality jobs, community ownership of disaster-resistant solar projects and less air pollution.

"100 Percent Clean Energy for All is an exciting, ambitious, and achievable policy grounded in justice for communities who have been historically harmed the most by our energy systems," she said.

HB 2021 is the latest in a series of bills passed over the last 14 years aimed at decarbonizing the state's electricity sector.

The original renewables portfolio standard was adopted in 2007 and strengthened in 2016 with passage of Senate Bill 1547, which increased that standard to 50 percent renewables by 2040 and committed PacifiCorp and PGE to stop billing Oregon customers for the cost of coal in 2030 and 2035.

In 2008, PGE and environmental and consumer groups negotiated closure of the Boardman coal-fired power plant that went off line in 2020. Also, in 2020, Brown signed an executive order stepping up the state's GHG reduction goals by directing state agencies to lower their emissions.

"Make no mistake: a 100-percent clean, affordable, and reliable electric system is the foundation for Oregon's future," Bob Jenks, executive director of Oregon Citizens' Utility Board, said in a prepared statement.

"Passage of HB 2021 is a really big deal because the legislation offers Oregon a clear and achievable roadmap for cleaning up its electric sector while ensuring affordability for customers and reliability for the system," Jenks added.

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Editor - Clearing Up

Steve began covering energy policy and resource development in the Pacific Northwest in 1999. He’s been editor of Clearing Up since 2003, and has been a fellow at the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources and University of Texas.