Portland General Electric unveiled a resource plan Monday that steers clear of fossil fuels, a departure from 2016, when the possibility of new natural gas plants brought a wave of opposition.
The state’s largest electric utility said investments in energy efficiency, demand management, customer-generated energy, new renewables and energy storage could fill a capacity gap expected to open up in the coming decade – and keep it on a path to hit a greenhouse gas emissions reduction target unveiled last year.
“In addition to meeting our near-term needs, this action plan will help us continue on the course to meeting our goal of reducing GHGs by more than 80 percent (from 2010 levels) by 2050,” the company said in its 2019 integrated resource plan.
PGE and Oregon’s other big investor-owned electric utility, PacifiCorp, file integrated resources plans every two years. They forecast demand and outline a least cost, least risk “action plan” for meeting it. The aim is acknowledgement from the Public Utility Commission, which can benefit a company when it looks to recover capital costs in rates.
Decarbonization is a growing feature of these plans, reflecting policy and political pressure and the increasingly competitive cost of renewable energy and energy storage.
In 2017, when PGE still had new natural gas on the table, Multnomah County and the city of Portland, the heart of PGE’s service territory, developed goals of 100 percent renewable electricity by 2035 and for all energy uses by 2050. Those goals apply communitywide, not just to government facilities.
Under new CEO Maria Pope, PGE has since then taken every opportunity to signal its green intentions.
In February, the company landed on the one resource addition to come out of the 2016 IRP, the Wheatridge Renewable Energy Facility, a 300-megawatt wind farm co-located with a 50-megawatt solar power array and a battery storage system capable of putting out 30 megawatts for up to four hours.
In the 681-page 2019 IRP, PGE said it analyzed 43 portfolios. Based on “commonalities” it found in the handful or so that performed best, the company designed a “Mixed Full Clean” portfolio that tossed out any new gas-fired generation in favor of the equivalent of a new wind power plant and a big batch of energy storage.
“The Mixed Full Clean portfolio met all of the screening criteria and performed among the best performing portfolios on the basis of the traditional cost and risk metrics – making it our preferred portfolio,” PGE said.
The plan includes a renewables bidding process in 2020, aiming for 150 average megawatt-hours of power that would be in service by the end of 2023. The plan highlights Montana wind, but the specific resource and its location would be determined through a request for proposals. About 250 megawatts of energy storage would follow by 2025.
The company wants storage “that has a duration of at least six hours,” making pumped hydropower – a big proposed project in Southern Oregon recently gained federal approval – a possibility, along with batteries.
PGE said expiring contracts and increasing demand – mostly from the industrial sector, driven by semiconductor manufacturing and data centers – could still leave it needing additional resources. If that happens, it would first look to contract power from existing regional resources before possibly moving on to more renewables.
A staged approach like that is what stakeholders generally pushed for after PGE began the 2016 IRP process eying a broadly focused request for proposals that could have included natural gas.
This time around, the company said if it does need to do an RFP for additional resources, they will be “non-emitting.”
“We’re encouraged and optimistic about where PGE appears to be heading,” said Silvia Tanner, senior counsel and analyst at Renewable Northwest, a nonprofit backed by renewable energy companies and public interest groups. “It recognizes the value of renewable energy resources, and incorporates several lessons learned (from 2016).”
The IRP comes just weeks after a cap and trade bill died in the Oregon Legislature. PGE supported the bill, which asked little new of it (or PacifiCorp) until after 2030, and the company continues to be guided by the policy.
“Cap and trade remains the most relevant carbon policy proposal in Oregon at this time,” PGE said in the IRP. “It therefore provides the basis for estimating the impacts of future carbon regulations within the IRP.”
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