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Oregon’s largest electric utilities missing climate benchmarks, report says

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Oregon’s largest private electricity providers are dragging their feet when it comes to transitioning to renewable energy sources, a recent Sierra Club report found.

Its latest Dirty Truth report analyzed decarbonization plans and awarded grades to 77 of the country’s biggest electric utilities, including Portland General Electric, or PGE, Idaho Power and PacifiCorp, which owns Pacific Power, operating in Oregon and California.

Only one of the three companies, which provide electricity to about one-third of Oregonians, received a passing grade for being on-track to meet the Biden administration’s goal of 80% clean electricity by 2030 and 100% by 2035.

More than 40% of U.S. electricity today comes from emissions-free sources, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.

PGE, the largest private electricity provider in the state, serving nearly 1 million customers, received an “F,” from the Sierra Club, PacifiCorp received a “D” and Idaho Power a “C” for plans to reduce emissions in the next decade.

The grades were based on points awarded to the companies for plans to retire coal-powered electricity projects and build new clean energy projects in the next decade. Companies lost points for plans to expand fossil fuel production or if they did not plan to invest in enough renewable energy to meet demand predicted for 2030.

Despite increasing its portfolio of renewable electricity over the last few years, PGE went from a “C” to an “F” since the Sierra Club’s last Dirty Truth report in 2021. It has not committed to ending the import of electricity powered by coal and has made a commitment to switch to 100% renewable energy sources by 2040, not 2035.

The company got an additional “F” for “greenwashing” by making public commitments to reduce more emissions than current plans could achieve.

Sarah Hamaker, a communications specialist with PGE, said in an email that the company disagrees with the grade.

“Oregon has some of the most aggressive climate targets in the nation and PGE is proud to support these policies,” she wrote, noting the company additionally demolished the state’s last coal plant in Boardman in northeast Oregon.

She also said the company is investing in more renewable energy projects, such as its new Wheatridge Renewable Energy Facility in Morrow County. It is among the largest wind and solar generation and storage projects in the country, Hamaker said.

PacifiCorp’s “D” marks an improvement on the “F” it received last year. This is because the company committed to moving more electricity away from coal and to grow investments in renewable energy sources in the next decade. But the company plans to increase gas-powered electricity in the next decade, according to the report.

Idaho Power was given a “C,” an upgrade from the “F” it received last year, in large part for committing to cut in half the electricity it generates from coal and to increase electricity from renewables by almost 60% in the next decade.

In 2021, the Oregon Legislature passed the Clean Energy For All law, requiring PGE and Pacific Power as the state’s two largest electric utilities, to move to 100% non-fossil fuel sources by 2040. It also banned the expansion of new fossil-fuel burning power plants in Oregon. More than half of Oregon’s electricity today comes from emissions-free hydropower.

The 77 utilities analyzed by the nonprofit supply about 40% of all the electricity used in the U.S. The analysis found that most of the utilities were not on track to meet the Biden targets, and nearly half of them have made no progress toward their emissions goals in the last year.

The Oregon Capital Chronicle is a professional, nonprofit news organization. We are an affiliate of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. The Capital Chronicle retains full editorial independence, meaning decisions about news and coverage are made by Oregonians for Oregonians.