Oregon: Switching From Coal to Renewable Energy Is a Bargain
Oregon may have a reputation for rainy weather, but the outlook for the renewable energy there is definitely sunny.
Earlier this year the state passed legislation that requires utilities to stop generating electricity from coal by 2030. At the time, one of Oregon's two main energy utilities, Pacific Power, predicted that the switch to renewables would come with a fairly high cost, hitting customers with a rate increase of 0.8 percent per year through 2030. That's a cumulative increase of about 12 percent over the next 14 years.
The cost savings come not only from solar energy's increasing efficiency and falling prices for the technology output but from the volume of development.Oregon Department of Transportation
Since then, however, things have changed. After the legislation passed, Pacific Power put out a request for bids for renewable energy projects and developers came back with prices much lower than expected.
How low? Try 0.1 percent through the year 2028. That's not per year, like the previous estimate. It's the projected rate increase for the entire time period.
That amounts to a 10-cent rate increase for every current $100 in electricity costs.
What happened? "When we did our initial analysis of this, we didn't have the latest prices from the markets," said Pacific Power spokesperson Ry Schwark. "We went out in the market and found that there is such an amount of renewable energy coming online in the next couple of years that we were basically able to move our coal-free compliance date up two years to 2028," without much of a rate impact on consumers, he said.
Schwark said the company is preparing contracts with 12 new renewable energy projects—including 11 big solar farms and one wind array—that will come online over the next year and a half. Ten of those sites are in Oregon. (Pacific Power also does business in Washington state and California, although most of its customers are in rural Oregon).
The cost savings come not only from solar energy's increasing efficiency and falling prices for the technology output but from the volume of development. "There are such an amount of renewables coming online across the network that we can get really competitive prices," Schwark said.
Schwark declined to comment on how much Pacific Power will spend to acquire the renewable energy, but data provided by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) showed how much more affordable solar has become over the past few years. "We've seen reported power purchase agreement prices for utilities to buy power from new utility-scale solar projects on the order of $40 to $50 per megawatt hour, which is competitive with electricity generated from existing coal and natural gas plants," said Alex Hobson, a spokesperson for the Washington, DC–based trade group.
"At these prices and as utilities grow more comfortable with the operating characteristics of solar plants, solar will make up an increasingly large share of America's energy portfolio," Hobson said. That's already happening: SEIA's list of major solar projects catalogs more than 3,300 megawatts' worth of utility-scale solar projects that are under construction across the U.S. Another 53,000 megawatts' worth of projects are in development.
Schwark said this is just the first step and that Pacific Power expects to make additional renewable acquisitions as prices continue to fall. That will be necessary, because the coal-free regulations in Oregon also require the state to obtain 50 percent of its energy from renewables by 2040. "There are more things we'll need to do over the next 20 years to meet that, but as an initial step this is quite a positive one," he said.
John R. Platt covers the environment, technology, philanthropy and more for Scientific American, Conservation, Lion and other publications.
This article was reposted with permission from our media associate TakePart.
Santa Barbara Becomes First California City to Pass Resolution Against Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling
The Santa Barbara City Council approved a resolution Tuesday opposing new drilling off the California coast and fracking in existing offshore oil and gas wells. The resolution is the first in a new statewide campaign to rally local governments against proposals to expand offshore fossil fuel extraction in federal waters.
The vote—which makes Santa Barbara the first California city to oppose both fracking and new offshore drilling—follows President Trump's April 28 executive order urging federal agencies to expand oil and gas leasing in federal waters. The order could expose the Pacific Ocean to new oil leasing for the first time in more than 30 years.
Starting Wednesday, the vast majority of Americans can learn about every potentially harmful chemical in their drinking water and what scientists say are the safe levels of those contaminants. The Environmental Working Group's (EWG) new national Tap Water Database is the most complete source available on the quality of U.S. drinking water, aggregating and analyzing data from almost 50,000 public water systems in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
The organization has earned a reputation for ambitious data-mining research projects that shake up policy debates and consumer markets. EWG's online Farm Subsidy Database, listing millions of subsidy recipients, and its Skin Deep guide to more than 70,000 personal care products, draw tens of millions of visitors every year.
By Stacy Malkan
Ever since they classified the world's most widely used herbicide as "probably carcinogenic to humans," a team of international scientists at the World Health Organization's (WHO) cancer research group have been under withering attack by the agrichemical industry and its surrogates.
In a front-page series, The Monsanto Papers, the French newspaper Le Monde described the attacks as "the pesticide giant's war on science," and reported, "to save glyphosate, the firm [Monsanto] undertook to harm the United Nations agency against cancer by all means."
The lengthy report from the Energy and Policy Institute uses reams of archival documents to demonstrate that utility industry representatives knew as far back as 1968 that burning fossil fuels could trigger "catastrophic effects" on the climate.
By Sharon Kelly
The Pennsylvania's Environmental Hearing Board ordered Sunoco Pipeline LP Tuesday to temporarily halt some types of work on a $2.5 billion pipeline project designed to carry 275,000 barrels a day of butane, propane and other liquid fossil fuels from Ohio and West Virginia, across Pennsylvania, to the Atlantic coast.
On July 19, three environmental groups presented Judge Bernard Labuskes, Jr. with documentation showing that the project had caused dozens of drilling fluid spills and other accidents between April and mid-June.
By Andy Rowell
The UK has followed France in banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2040, as part of its plan to tackle chronic air pollution in cities. The government has been coming under intense pressure to act, with an estimated 40,000 people dying prematurely a year from air pollution.
By Colleen Curry
People traveling across America today can, if they're lucky, pitch a tent in the same exact spot that early American explorers and map-makers Lewis and Clark did, amid the jagged rocks and sweeping plains of the Upper Missouri River Breaks in central Montana.
Brent Rose, a journalist and filmmaker who has been traveling around the U.S. in a van for two years, was one of the lucky ones.
Kyara, a killer whale born at SeaWorld San Antonio just three months ago, died Monday at the park, as reported in this video from Newsy. Kyara is the last orca to be born in captivity under the SeaWorld breeding program, which shut down in 2016.
In a statement, SeaWorld said the cause of death was "likely pneumonia" and that "Kyara had faced some very serious and progressive health issues over the last week."