Oregon has become the first state in the U.S. to pass legislation that will see it phase out all coal. The state has committed itself to a complete ban on all coal-generated energy by 2035, as well as obligating that at least half of the state’s power come from renewable sources by 2040. The legislation was passed by Oregon's state assembly in a 38-20 vote, and will now need to be signed into law by Governor Kate Brown.
Despite only actually having one coal-fired power station within the state, Oregon still gets a third of its energy from coal-fired plants in the states of Montana, Utah, and Wyoming. This means that if Oregon is to wean itself off the dirty fossil fuel, there could be a knock-on effect as carbon emissions from these other states might also drop. The decision has the backing of two of Oregon’s major energy producers, who will also be required to increase their share of renewables to 50 percent by 2040.
The reasons for varying sectors backing the new legislation are different from group to group. It might, for example, seem odd for Pacific Power, the second largest energy provider in Oregon (of which around 67 percent comes from coal), to sign up for such a plan. But for the company, the opportunity to decommission aging power plants and secure their long-term viability in a regulated and controlled manner actually makes sense.
Either way, whatever the reasons behind it, the outcome is the same, and the news has been widely celebrated by environmental groups. The Sierra Club’s Andy Maggi has stated that “[Wednesday’s] vote is a win-win for our climate and clean energy here in Oregon. The Clean Electricity and Coal Transition plan shows that we can come together to advance real climate solutions as we move away from coal and toward more clean energy.”
The step down from coal will add to an already fairly good track record for the state, as while 33 percent of their energy might be coming from coal, almost 45 percent already comes from low-carbon hydroelectric. Now, utilities will have to support integrating renewable energy into the grid from sources such as wind and solar, as well as help towards the installation of charging points for electric cars within the state.
The move by Oregon comes as Obama’s Clean Power Plan stalls after a ruling was passed by the Supreme Court, meaning that all objections to the president’s legislation must be held before the plan can be implemented. This is expected to take months, and means that Obama will probably be out of the White House before all cases are heard. Despite this, some predict that the floodgates have opened, and a move towards a low carbon society is now inevitable and it’s just a matter of time.