Portland General Electric formally suspended its effort Friday to get two new natural gas-fired plants approved at its Carty Generating Station in Eastern Oregon, the same day that Oregon Public Utility Commission staff dashed some cold water on PGE's plans to seek the new power plants.
A variety of interest groups also had been pressing PGE to drop the plants, for different reasons. Industrial customers didn't want PGE to commit to developing expensive new plants that would have to be paid for over the next 30 to 40 years, when power might be available on the market from other sources that involves shorter-term commitments. Environmental groups want PGE to avoid investing in more natural gas plants because they produce significant carbon emissions that cause global warming. Environmentalists have argued that the price of wind and solar are rapidly declining, and would be more economical and environmentally responsible for the long term than natural gas.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury recently called for the city and county to move away from fossil fuel use entirely, and Wheeler said he was lobbying PGE not to add more gas plants at Carty to replace the Boardman coal plant set to close in late 2020.
PGE has been moving on different fronts to oblige its critics, recently announcing a series of deals to acquire short-term hydro power and reduce its projected energy demand.
The utility's CEO, Jim Piro, recently told stock analysts recently that PGE would seek to buy more power on the market and considered the two Carty gas plants as a backup plan.
On Friday, the utility sent a letter to the Oregon Department of Energy and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, formally asking to suspend its permit applications for the two plants at Carty.
"The timing truly is coincidental on our part," said Steve Corson, PGE spokesman, about sending the letters the same day that PUC staff weighed in on PGE's plans.
PGE finalized its decision to suspend its permit applications for the plants Friday morning, he said, before the PUC staff comments were posted on the website.
PUC staff, in comments on PGE's Integrated Resource Plan, said the utility had been projecting unrealistically higher growth in energy demand than its counterparts, such as in the Puget Sound area.
"Staff notes that long-lived gas resources generally appear competitive when compared to other resources, given their low (expected) costs," PUC staff wrote. "However, staff has grown increasingly concerned that current changes in electricity sector dynamics as well as future changes completely unknown mean that locking-in a 35-year resource poses significant and unaddressed risk to customers."
Among those changes is pressure to assess a price on carbon emissions to reflect their environmental impact, the PUC staff noted.
A PUC hearing on PGE's Integrated Resource Plan will still take place as previously scheduled Monday at 6 p.m. at the Portland Building Auditorium.