Oregon’s 2040 electricity mandates rely on future technology – or buying out of state

By Micah DeSilva

Two years ago, the Oregon Legislature passed House Bill 2021, which requires Oregon’s investor-owned electric utilities to phase out fossil fuels by 2040, producing all electricity from renewables—mostly wind and solar.

But renewables have a problem: Wind and solar are notoriously unreliable. They must always depend on on-demand “dispatchable” resources, which in Oregon means natural gas and hydro. New hydro is nearly impossible to build, and with other dispatchables outlawed, Oregon could find itself without electricity when it’s really needed.

PacifiCorp, one of Oregon’s two investor-owned electric utilities, admits that it likely will be unable to meet customer needs without the invention of new technologies by 2030. Without such technologies, Oregon utilities will have two options: apply for exemptions to HB 2021’s requirements, or buy electricity from other states.

If other states don’t pursue similar policies, Oregon essentially would be paying a premium to shift the blame for its emissions onto its neighbors. It still would be reliant on other states’ on-demand fossil-powered generation, but would get to claim a “100% renewable” grid. If other states do adopt similar requirements, they will face the same reliability issues as Oregon and be unable to offer help.

Oregon shouldn’t be betting its energy future on technology that doesn’t exist, and it shouldn’t be forcing premiums on ratepayers to shift around blame.

Micah DeSilva is a Research Associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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