Oregon becomes first US state to ban coal-fired power

Citizens of Oregon will no longer derive their energy from coal, putting the environmentally-conscious state at the front of the line of U.S. jurisdictions that are turning their backs on the widely-derided fossil fuel.

The Clean Energy and Coal Transition Act commits to eliminating the use of coal-fired power by 2035 and to double the amount of renewable energy by 2040. It will also require its two largest utilities to increase their share of clean energy such as solar and wind to 50 percent by 2040, the Guardian reported. Critics say the bill, which has been passed but still has to be signed into law by Governor Kate Brown, will drive up power costs.

Coal provides about a third of Oregon's electricity, but most of it is imported from Utah, Montana and Wyoming. The state only has one operating coal-fired power plant, the 36-year-old Boardman facility supplying about 550 megawatts, but it is due to shut down by 2020.

State Republicans criticized the bill as leading to higher electricity costs for households but Pacific Power, a large Oregon utility, answered that the move to renewables would only raise costs by less than 1 percent by 2030, the newspaper said. The other major utility in the state, Portland General Electric, also backed the deal.

Noah Long of the US Natural Resources Defense Council said the law could limit emissions in other states if it reduces their coal use.

“For the utility companies it means long-term certainty,” he told New Scientist, adding  that “[Pacific Power has] a bunch of ageing coal plants which they know that they cannot run forever and this gives them a pathway for a regulated exit.”

Neighbouring California hasn't banned coal but it has committed to reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Oregon plans to reduce its carbon emissions by 80 percent from 2005 levels by 2050. Its move away from coal follows similar decisions in the UK, which plans to phase out coal-fired power within 10 years and China, which has banned approvals of new coal mines for the next three years.