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. 


Oil trains: not just unsafe. Unnecessary.

by KC Golden and Eileen V. Quigley on August 4, 2016

Will it be hard to transition completely from oil to clean energy? Yes. But it’s well within our reach.

Oregon's plan to trade coal for clean energy—the benefits in detail

by Kristen Sheeran on March 15, 2016

We're still celebrating Oregon's new Clean Electricity and Coal Transition law! Here we explain why we love it so much, how it moves the needle towards climate security, and what's left to be done. 

Oregon makes history on clean energy

by Kristen Sheeran on March 2, 2016

Oregon is now on its way to have one of the cleanest energy grids in the country. We're so proud!

On the road to net zero energy homes in Oregon?

by David Van't Hof on February 24, 2016

It's time for Oregon to reclaim a leadership position on building codes and to join the vanguard of states leading the way in pursuit of net zero energy homes and businesses. 

The Coal to Clean Imperative

by Elizabeth Willmott on February 8, 2016

Puget Sound Energy is a crucial player on Washington's path toward a clean energy future, but its 20-year resource plan falls significantly short on the urgency and boldness we need to make deep, near-term carbon reduction.

Planning and preparing for climate change in the Northwest

by Bill Bradbury on November 17, 2015

The NW Power and Conservation Council is preparing a new, 20-year plan for our region's power grid, with emphasis on increasing energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions. Find out what's in the draft report, and how you can weigh in.

The Silent Hero: breaking down barriers to energy efficiency

by Elizabeth Willmott on September 14, 2015

Former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson once named energy efficiency the “silent hero” in the climate crisis. Republican Governor Butch Otter of Idaho called efficiency the “low hanging fruit in the energy orchard.” We know that a key way to reduce our climate pollution is to reduce our energy demand. By reducing energy use, we also save money on our utility bills. So why are there still barriers to homeowners embracing deep energy efficiency? 

Lowering utility bills while creating jobs—now that's efficient

by Caleb Smith on September 8, 2015

“Every watt saved by energy efficiency measures helps create living-wage jobs,” says Stephanie Pitts of McKinstry, the latest business recipient of the BlueGreen Alliance's "Right Stuff" award.

Renewing Brew - Solutions Story
Renewing Brew

by Bobby Hayden on November 24, 2014

From the farm to the foam in your glass, Oregon businesses are building a sustainable life-cycle for beer through clean energy and energy efficiency.

Itek Energy
Sunnyside Up

by Bobby Hayden on June 30, 2014

In a community at the crossroads of our energy future, a growing solar company is making the clean economy real.

Solar panels

Here Comes the Sun

Falling costs and increasing deployment of solar energy are making a clean electricity grid more of a reality, which is good for both decreasing carbon emissions in buildings and from industry, but also in transport as more vehicles shift from fossil fuels to electricity.

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Choreographing Renewables

Only the myth holds us back:  “The storage necessity myth:  how to choreograph high-renewables electricity systems” – short video narrated by Amory Lovins.

The Rocky Mountain Institute is doing extensive work to demonstrate how electricity systems can function reliably – instantaneously balancing electricity supply and demand – with growing amounts of intermittent renewables supplying the juice. They have distilled the case into a pithy video.