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PGE draws fire from all sides in power plan comments

Portland General Electric’s plan to meet its future power needs came in for the expected pummeling from environmentalists and industrial users on Tuesday, and drew skepticism from Oregon Public Utility Commission staff.

In the first round of comments on the integrated resource plan, PUC staff questioned the utility’s capacity needs, called its plan vague to the point of being “problematic,” and said its “portfolio construction and overall analysis seems to be weighted toward long-term assets.”

That asset, in the view of the Sierra Club, is a natural gas-fired power plant, something Portland General Electric (NYSE: POR) insists is only one possible option.

“What information is provided in this IRP appears unreasonably biased towards acquisition of a new gas-fired combined cycle unit … ” the Sierra Club said in its comments. “It appears that PGE intends to construct such a unit but has not fully disclosed its intentions to the Commission or stakeholders.”

The Sierra Club said the utility’s methodology gave short shrift to out-of-state wind power, in particular, that could help it meet its needs when the big Boardman plant in Eastern Oregon stops burning coal in 2021.

Industrial users, focused more on costs, doubted the need for a new natural gas plant and the 500-plus megawatts of renewable energy the utility is eying.

The Industrial Customers of Northwest Utilities charged that PGE “seeks to double-down” on a strategy that has seen it add “well over $1 billion to its rate base, primarily through the addition of three new generation resources – Port Westward 2, the Tucannon River Wind Farm, and the Carty Generating Station.”

PGE’s spokesman Steve Corson said the utility expected stakeholders to raise questions about the plan.

“That’s the way this process works,” he said. “We’ll respond to those comments in the process, and I’m sure we’ll also raise questions for them as well.”

Corson said the utility was a bit baffled, though, on one count.

“On the one hand, we’re being accused of being too vague,” he said. “On the other hand, they’re saying we’re just driving toward a predetermined outcome.”