Oregon Public Utilities Commission Increases Scrutiny on Pacific Power's Coal Plants

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Commission issues guidelines to increase transparency, reduce risk of unnecessary rate hikes
Amy Hojnowski, amy.hojnowski@sierraclub.org, 503-347-3752
Nathan Landers, nathan.landers@sierraclub.org, 707-477-3745

Portland, Oregon -- Today, the Oregon Public Utilities Commission (PUC) adopted a set of recommendations to require utility Pacific Power (and its parent company PacifiCorp) to increase transparency and more fully analyze the alternatives to investments in its aging fleet of coal plants. The recommendations, which include a deeper disclosure about the viability of its coal plants and more fully considering alternatives like clean energy, were issued after a series of summer workshops in which the PUC listened to stakeholders from across the state. In the past, Pacific Power has been denied rate increases for its coal plants and received reprimands from the PUC for seeking to charge customers for retrofits on old and potentially obsolete coal plants without first fully examining the alternatives.

 

These new standards will have an impact across all of the PacifiCorp states, where a majority of the utility’s electricity is generated by coal-fired power plants.

 

In response, Oregon Sierra Club Campaign Representative Amy Hojnowski issued the following statement:

 

“Pacific Power has not been transparent with its customers about the costs of remaining dependent on coal-fired power, and the Oregon Public Utilities Commission is demanding more accountability. While other utilities in Oregon are more quickly transitioning off of coal, Pacific Power continues to cling to its old, dirty coal plants, many of which have become outdated and expensive to run. Pacific Power’s energy mix is still less than 10% clean energy, and over the last seven years they have raised rates on Oregon customers by more than 61%, mostly to pay for their coal fleet. It is unacceptable for Pacific Power to neglect clean energy while investing billions in old coal plants.

 

“This action by the Oregon PUC will also have a positive impact across the west. The analysis and transparency the Oregon PUC has requested will be available to all of the PacifiCorp service area uncovering the true financial risks of coal and the potential benefits of clean energy for all of their states.

 

“We applaud the Oregon Public Utilities Commission for their leadership, and for being vigilant in demanding transparency and accountability for Oregon ratepayers.”

 

Background:

 

Pacific Power serves half a million customers in Oregon and is a subsidiary of PacifiCorp, a company which also operates in Washington, California, Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming. PacifiCorp and its subsidiaries continue to get the majority of their electricity from coal-fired power plants.

 

In 2012, the Oregon PUC disallowed $17 million dollars that PacifiCorp was seeking from its customers for expensive retrofits on its aging coal plants without first fully vetting the alternatives. During the deliberations on their 2013 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) they were warned by the commission that they were headed for a “trainwreck of a rate case” if they continued to invest heavily in out-of-state coal plants without first presenting their plans to the PUC for proper analysis. In July of this year, the PUC refused to acknowledge Pacific Power’s expenditures at two units at the Jim Bridger coal plant in Wyoming and one unit at the Hunter plant in Utah, a strong signal that the company will have a difficult time recouping those expenses, protecting Oregon customers from higher rates.

 

Today’s recommendations came after the PUC held four workshops with stakeholders this summer meant to examine the best way moving forward to analyze coal fleet expenditures. During the workshops the PUC demanded more accountability from Pacific Power and signaled skepticism that multi-billion dollar expenditures on coal plants are the least-cost option for Oregon customers. The recommendations will be used to inform the upcoming 2015 IRP process, when the utility will submit a plan detailing what forms of energy it intends to invest in and supply to Oregonians in the years ahead.

News Source : Oregon Public Utilities Commission Increases Scrutiny on Pacific Power's Coal Plants
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