The headline on The Oregonian's business page last Wednesday was expected. "PacifiCorp to shift jobs from Portland to Utah." The newspaper's story was that when MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co. acquires PacifiCorp, it will move its top executives, because Utah contains a larger customer base than Oregon.
PacifiCorp is a multi-state utility, long headquartered in Portland. It serves Clatsop County.
There is more than customer base behind MidAmerican's decision. Portland will miss those executive jobs, of course. More significantly, neither Portland nor Oregon is likely to approve of the change in corporate culture this move represents.
In a nutshell, moving Pacifi-Corp's center of gravity to Utah is a shift toward a Midwestern coal culture and away from the Pacific Northwest culture of renewable energy generation, energy efficiency and environmental sensitivity. MidAmerican, based in Des Moines, is coal-oriented.
PacifiCorp has historically been one of America's more progressive utilities. Under the leadership of former CEO Don Frisbee, PacifiCorp's subsidiary Pacific Power was one of the first energy companies to realize that the company would be financially better off if it did not have to invest money to increase generating capacity. Therefore, Pacific Power created a very attractive loan program for customers to weatherize their homes or install more energy efficient lighting in their offices and factories.
Coal is yesterday's energy solution. More innovative, progressive solutions have been PacifiCorp's hallmark for decades.
This prospective cultural shift within a major western utility will have a huge impact on what this region does about climate change and global warming. MidAmerican's coal culture will not change. But PacifiCorp's Oregon ratepayers must not remain silent. We must assert our own progressive energy values.