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PGE Aims to Phase Out Coal at Boardman Plant

coal pileFacing opposition to a plan to keep a coal plant running until 2040, Portland General Electric instead has proposed to phase out use of coal at its Boardman plant by 2020, according to news reports.

The catch is that Portland General Electric would scale back the previously proposed in excess of $500 million in emissions mitigation to just $45 million, with the promise that it would phase out coal there, reports OregonLive.

The utility has proposed a change to the Oregon Public Utility Commission to let it keep operating the plant until 2020 without major emissions upgrades, as required under current rules.

To replace the 375 megawatts in lost coal-generating capacity at Boardman, Portland General Electric may pursue biomass, reports the Portland Business Journal.

“Our preliminary analysis shows that an alternative plan may be the best option for our customers and we intend to pursue that,” said Jim Piro, President and CEO, in a press release.

The utility is considering a technology called torrefaction, in which wood and plant material is treated with heat and chemicals to turn it into a dense, coal-like substance that would enable the plant to continue operating. Then it could make the claim it was using a renewable feedstock.

Prior to the new plan, the utility had planned to build a natural gas-fired plant there, as the utility faces a 20 percent increase in electricity demand over the coming decade, reports OregonLive. That plant, however, would have increased pollutants.

The utility’s plan to close its Boardman plant by 2020 is a good one, wrote Jeff Bissonnette, the organizing director of the Citizens’ Utility Board of Oregon, in a guest column at BlueOregon.

“Because Boardman is the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions in the state, early action to close it just by itself will significantly reduce Oregon’s carbon pollution,” Bissonnette wrote.

The utility’s original plan to keep Boardman burning coal through 2040 would have had the company spending up to $560 million on pollution-control technology.

Bissonnette wrote that those changes would not necessarily have resulted in lower emissions.

“Investing hundreds of millions in coal plants today makes little sense when sometime in the future we will likely see coal plants being shut down due to their carbon pollution,” he wrote.

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