How will EPA rules affect your power bill?

Power providers say it is too soon to tell

By Dylan J. Darling / The Bulletin / @DylanJDarling

Power providers in Central Oregon say it is too soon to tell how federal requirements for Oregon to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants might affect their customers’ power bills.

“Until we see the state implementation programs, it is going to be hard to know what this means,” Bob Gravely, spokesman for PacifiCorp in Portland, said Thursday. PacifiCorp is the parent company of Pacific Power, with more than 72,000 customers the largest power provider in Central Oregon.

On Monday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced carbon dioxide emission targets for states aimed at lowering the amount of greenhouse gases. Oregon’s goal is a 48 percent reduction in power-plant carbon emissions by 2030.

Oregon has at least a couple of years to come up with a plan on the reductions.

Existing plans to add more renewable energy to the state’s energy portfolio, to shut down the only coal plant in the state in 2020 and to increase power-production efficiency all make the reduction target achievable, said Bob Valdez, spokesman for the Oregon Public Utilities Commission. The state agency regulates power.

“Oregon is prepared to do its share,” he said.

As Gravely said, Valdez explained that it was premature to forecast how power bills could change as a result of the EPA carbon emission targets.

“We really don’t know right now,” he said. “It is way too early.”

Coal-fired power plants are the top emitter of greenhouse gases in the nation, so less carbon dioxide emissions likely means fewer coal plants.

While Pacific Power increased rates at the start of the year and again at the end of last month, Gravely said there are no plans for more in 2015 or 2016.

“We think we are coming out of a period of rate increases,” Gravely said.

Burning coal is one of the cheapest ways to produce power in the country, so replacing coal plants with other sources probably will cause power bills to go up, said Jeff Beaman, member services director for Central Oregon Cooperative.

“The question is how much and at what time,” he said. Owned by its customers, the cooperative has more than 25,000 members and is the second-largest power provider in the region.

The cooperative is far less dependent on coal than Pacific Power, with the bulk of its power coming from the Bonneville Power Administration. More than 90 percent of the power provided by the co-op comes from dams and nuclear power plants, which won’t be affected by the emission targets.

“It will have some impact on us, but we can’t project at this point how much that would be,” Beaman said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7812, ddarling@bendbulletin.com

Power from coal

Power comes into Oregon from around the West. The largest source in PacifiCorp’s portfolio is coal. Here’s the breakdown of the sources for the company’s power:

• Coal 58%

• Natural gas 21%

• Dams 11%

• Wind, other renewables 10%

Very little coal provides power for the region’s other big provider, Central Oregon Cooperative.