State Sen. Betsy Johnson has introduced a bill that would ease the requirements for counting hydroelectric power toward the state’s renewable energy goals — a move some say would weaken an effort to promote new clean power sources.
The state’s renewable portfolio standard, created in 2007 and enhanced in 2016, calls for half of all energy consumed in Oregon to come from renewable sources by 2040.
Utilities that provide at least 3 percent of the state’s retail electricity sales — PacifiCorp, Portland General Electric and the Eugene Water and Electric Board — have to meet the renewable portfolio standard.
Cooperatives can purchase renewable energy credits, a lower-cost option for meeting the standard.
The goal is intended to build upon hydropower, which provides more than 40 percent of energy consumed in Oregon, and promote the development of other renewables.
For that reason, only hydroelectric sources outside protected areas that became operational in 1995 or later, were upgraded after 1995 or were certified as low-impact can be counted toward the standard. The requirements leave out much of the hydroelectric energy produced by such sources as Bonneville Power Administration dams.
Senate Bill 508, filed by Johnson on behalf of retired state Rep. Deborah Boone, would delete many of the requirements related to counting hydroelectric power, enabling more hydroelectric energy to go toward the renewable portfolio standard.
Johnson, D-Scappoose, said she is supportive of the bill but deferred questions about it to Boone.
Johnson’s bill is identical to legislation introduced by state Sen. Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls, and state Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner.
Boone, a Democrat who represented the North Coast in the House for 14 years, claims Oregon is technologically behind many other states and countries that count hydroelectric power as renewable.
“Everybody knows these are clean, renewable energy sources,” Boone said. “Who would have a problem with that?”
But there are concerns that allowing more hydropower could take the teeth out of the state’s renewable energy goals.
Rikki Seguin, policy director for Renewable Northwest, said there are similar bills almost every legislative session to count more hydropower. While the advocacy group believes hydropower is renewable, it opposes counting existing projects toward the state’s renewable portfolio standard.
“We really see Oregon’s RPS as being meant to build on our legacy of low-cost, clean hydropower,” she said.
Including more hydropower would effectively allow the state to meet its renewable energy goals, but would negate the incentive to develop more renewables, such as wind and solar, despite a growing demand from customers, she said.
Tom Gauntt, a spokesman for Pacific Power, said the utility is still researching the hydropower bills and has no position.
Washington state is considering legislation to eliminate coal energy by 2030 and require energy from 100 percent carbon-neutral sources, including hydropower, by 2045. Fuel producers and importers would be required to reduce carbon emissions from transportation fuels, among other climate initiatives.