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"Clean energy future of Oregon depends on conservation, renewables and smart grid"

Western states could generate big economic and public health dividends by more aggressively pursuing a low-carbon, clean-energy strategy that relies on renewable energy, conservation and smart grid technologies, according to a new report from the Grid West Group. The report looks out 40 years and compares the economic, environmental and public health outcomes in 2050 of two electricity industry trajectories. The "business-as-usual" approach continues heavy investment in cleaner coal and natural gas plants, while a "clean energy vision" relies on efficiency, distributed renewable generation and an upgraded electrical grid. And not surprisingly, it concludes the clean way is the right way, one that would create bigger economic opportunities, more jobs, greater energy security and improved public health.

"Clean energy future of Oregon depends on conservation, renewables and smart grid"

Solar installations play a vital role in a "clean energy vision" for Oregon.

By Ted Sickinger
The Oregonian
>> click here to read original article

Western states could generate big economic and public health dividends by more aggressively pursuing a low-carbon, clean-energy strategy that relies on renewable energy, conservation and smart grid technologies, according to a new report from the Grid West Group.

The report looks out 40 years and compares the economic, environmental and public health outcomes in 2050 of two electricity industry trajectories. The "business-as-usual" approach continues heavy investment in cleaner coal and natural gas plants, while a "clean energy vision" relies on efficiency, distributed renewable generation and an upgraded electrical grid.

Either way, the report says, it's at least a $200 billion tab by 2030. And not surprisingly, it concludes the clean way is the right way, one that would create bigger economic opportunities, more jobs, greater energy security and improved public health.

The authors of the report, "Western Grid 2050: Contrasting Futures, Contrasting Fortunes," insist that's not an ecotopian fantasy, but a cost-competitive strategy as long as policy makers make intentional choices to support it.

"The investments we make in the next 10 years are going to be with us for the next 40, so it's appropriate to look at what we want the grid to look like in 2050 and work back from there," said Carl Linvill, a consultant with the Aspen Environmental Group and lead author of the report. "We're concerned we're spending money on generation and some of the wrong transmission facilities that aren't setting that stage."

Ratepayer and environmental advocates in Oregon are raising the same concerns. Both Portland General Electric and PacifiCorp are preparing for their biggest power plant and transmission spending binges in decades. And while utilities both have invested heavily in renewables, their strategies still lean heavily on fossil fuel investments, consistent with the study's business as usual trajectory.

Portland General Electric has agreed to close its coal plant in Boardman -- the largest stationary source of air pollution and carbon emissions in the state -- by 2020. That agreement will get the state a lot closer to meeting the greenhouse gas reduction goals set buy the Legislature in 2007 -- 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and 75 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

"But if they replace that with a natural gas plant, they'll be back up above their current emissions levels by 2030," said Angus Duncan, chair of Oregon's Global Warming Commission. "It doesn't work."

PGE has agreed to look at greener replacement strategies, said spokesman Steve Corson. And it is trying a variety of strategies outlined in the study's clean energy vision, including a smart grid pilot in Salem, smart meters and big solar arrays.

"But we still have that balancing act of making things work now versus setting the stage for future changes," Corson said.

PacifiCorp, meanwhile, plans to spend $4.2 billion to retrofit and operate its coal fleet with better pollution controls. Its latest resource strategy doesn't foresee shutting any of them unless carbon becomes prohibitively expensive. Coal supplies almost two thirds of its energy today, a percentage that the utility says will decline over time. But it plans to meet much of its demand growth with gas-fired plants.

PacifiCorp spokesman Paul Vogel noted the company had agreed to a plant-by-plant cost-benefit analysis of its existing coal plants for Oregon regulators, and had abandoned plans for new ones. At the same time, he said, "we have a responsibility on the reliability and investment sides to protect customers and maximize the return from the investments we've already made."

One plank of the study's clean energy vision is to move away from large, remotely located fossil fuel plants toward smaller, cleaner renewable projects located closer to demand centers. The clean future also depends on aggressive demand reductions through conservation and technologies that automatically reduce customer demand during periods of high demand.

Making that vision reality would likely require heavy investment in smart grid technology coordinated across a broad swath of the West.

The Northwest has a strong start in a renewables arena and is generally recognized as a leader in efficiency investments. But its transmission system remains the most balkanized in the West, with control spread among various utilities and little agreement on how to coordinate the big investments needed to accommodate growing supplies of renewable energy.

"We're working against 100 years of tradition to break through to a new paradigm," said Rachel Shimshak, executive director of the Renewable Northwest Project, a renewable energy advocacy group that supported the study.

"You have to have a stomach for risk, but this clean energy vision is a great scenario for the Northwest. We're ahead of the game. We have a lot of experience to offer."

 
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