Photo of sunrise over Steens Mountain - Little Blitzen Gorge, 2016
So… What just happened in Salem?
Oregon’s 2021 legislative session has come to a close. We’ve made some major progress on statewide climate action, but before we dive into those details, let’s talk about how we got here.

Clean power icon 120To stabilize the climate and avert catastrophic disruption, we must transition our economy away from fossil fuels–particularly our energy and transportation sectors–by mid-century.   Shifting our grid in the Pacific Northwest to rely on 100% clean and efficient power is the core foundation to building a clean energy economy.  And with very rapid progress in vehicle electrification and energy storage technologies, clean electricity can soon be a major part of the strategy for reducing transportation-related emissions.

The great news is we're already on our way and carbon-free electric power system is within reach.   If the entire economy is to be decarbonized by mid-century, the electric power sector in the Pacific Northwest will need to get there by the 2030s.   In 2019, the Washington Legislature passed one of the strongest policies in the country, with utilities having to transition off coal power by 2025 and offer 100% clean and carbon-free electricity by 2045.  With a strong renewable energy standard on the books already, Oregon could follow soon to also committing to 100% clean electricity, joining not just Washington but other states including Hawaii, California, New Mexico in the transition and being a model for others. 

Clean Power Pathways

The Northwest electric power system is already 71% carbon-free, making the region’s power supply as a whole less carbon-intensive than any other part of the U.S. The large base of existing hydropower both anchors the existing low-carbon system and, because it offers operational advantages over large thermal power plants, can serve as a relatively efficient platform for integrating renewable energy.  The major carbon pollution sources on the grid are already approaching functional and economic obsolescence; many coal plants are scheduled for retirement already, and no new ones are being built. 

The technologies to produce and use clean electric power, especially wind and solar energy, are relatively well-developed, diverse and commercialized now.  As the energy system makes greater use of rapid advances in information and communication technology, more pathways emerge on both the demand and supply sides for meeting energy service needs. 

While some bring up the need for "bridge fossil fuels" it's worth noting that while fossil methane is picking up some of the slack, it is with dubious climate benefits,[1] and there is little if any legitimate need for new investments in gas power plants or infrastructure.  Existing capacity can serve any foreseeable temporary need to use gas for system balancing.  A diverse array of flexible, low-cost strategies is emerging – including energy storage, efficiency, load management, smart grids, renewable energy diversity, and scheduling accuracy–to instantaneously balance electric power systems loads and resources.

Using energy wisely and renewable energy can save and deliver the kilowatt-hours we need.  But we will also need to upgrade the “system” hardware and software to unlock their full potential.  Grid modernization, smart grids, load management systems, storage solutions, and energy and transmission market reforms are vital and rapidly evolving parts of this “system upgrade.” 

We expect that renewable electric resources will be the primary focus of any new electric generating capacity needed to achieve decarbonization.[2]   It's essential to accelerate progress in financing, deploying, incentivizing, and integrating these technologies to get to a 100% clean grid.

Utilities and their regulators will need to evolve as well, developing financial and regulatory models that reward innovation, facilitate decarbonization to more distributed energy systems, protect consumers, and invest in communities historically impacted the most by pollution and lack of investment.


[1] Even low rates of methane leakage largely–or perhaps completely–balance out the advantage of gas over coal due to its lower CO2 production. But “better than coal” is not the appropriate test: even if leakage were not a problem, investment of long-term energy capital in new gas capacity is not consistent with the emission and investment trajectories necessary to meet climate stabilization imperatives.  See: “Key factors for assessing climate benefits of natural gas versus coal electricity generation.”

[2] Nuclear power plays a very limited role in the existing NW system, with only one commercial generating station in the region. New nuclear capacity using existing, commercialized technology is not competitive, nor is it being contemplated. New nuclear technology platforms are in the experimental stages, as are many other renewable energy technologies. While further innovation is likely, our focus will be primarily on deployment and operationalization of technologies and systems that have a reasonably clear sightline to safe and affordable commercialization. 


 

Photo of zero-emission electric trucks.
Shifting electric cars and buses into high gear

by Jonathan Lee on August 1, 2019

Oregon's legislature just established an ambitious statewide timeline for adopting zero-emission cars, buses, and commercial vehicles.

We all did this! Washington commits to 100% clean power

by Joëlle Robinson on April 23, 2019

Making history: this is what 100% climate leadership looks like!

2019 Session dispatches: week 6 with climate as a top priority

by Kelly Hall on February 21, 2019

For the first time in memory—and maybe ever—climate change is a top priority for the Washington Legislature. There are multiple landmark climate policies moving forward; The momentum is strong, and the stakes are high. Here’s an update on our top climate priorities.

That’s right: we can have 100% clean electricity!

by Joëlle Robinson on January 15, 2019

Washington is ready for 100% clean electricity—public hearings start this week!

Climate action 2019? We are IN

by Joëlle Robinson on December 12, 2018

On the anniversary of the historic Paris climate accord, the world met again in Katowice. Now the Washington legislature prepares for what could be a historic session for climate action.

The Twilight of Oil’s Big “No:” YES on 1631

by KC Golden on October 8, 2018

Oil’s dominance will last only as long as they can bully us into believing we can’t have clean energy and better choices. That's why they're spending tens of millions to oppose I-1631.

The path to 100% fossil-free electricity in Washington is within reach

by Climate Solutions on September 12, 2018

Climate Solutions presents new research demonstrating the feasibility of a clean-energy Pacific Northwest power grid.

Tell Puget Sound Energy: let's keep it clean--support I-1631

by Joëlle Robinson on July 24, 2018

We don't have a minute to lose in taking action on climate in Washington—and we need our energy utilities to stand with us for clean air and a stable climate.

No more risky business for Washington

by Kelly Hall on May 31, 2018

A recent decision by our state utilities commission should make it easier for Washington to invest in a clean energy future.

Public strongly supports 100% clean electricity, clean fuels

by Climate Solutions on January 12, 2018

A new Washington state poll demonstrates strong public support for legislators prepared to act on climate.

FILED: 100% clean air ballot initiatives

Earlier this week, our coalition of partners officially filed critical climate protection ballot measures with the Oregon Secretary of State's office, having collected twice as many signatures as needed to qualify.

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Strategy and action in the age of climate consequences

President Trump’s EPA wants to nullify states’ ability to set their own standards on tailpipe pollution—an action that would impact not only California but all other states working to address global warming. How can our work make a difference when the federal government is trying to roll back progress that even Ronald Reagan defended decades ago, and that many automakers now want to keep on the books?

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