Student Senate endorses 2014 closure of Boardman Coal Plant

The ASPSU Student Senate recently passed a resolution calling on Portland General Electric to close its only remaining coal-fired plant in the Northwest, located in Boardman, Ore. by 2014.

The ASPSU Student Senate recently passed a resolution calling on Portland General Electric to close its only remaining coal-fired plant in the Northwest, located in Boardman, Ore. by 2014. David Nokovic, student leadership liaison for economics at the Portland State Sustainability Leadership Center, submitted the resolution, which was sponsored by Senator and vice-president elect Selina Poulsen.

PSU is one of six colleges, universities and high schools in Oregon whose student governments passed the resolution to completely shut down the coal plant by 2014, including Reed College, Pacific University and Lane Community College. The plant, which opened in 1980, produces 15 percent of Oregon’s energy and operates at a variable cost of one-third to one-half of the market rate cost for electricity, according to PGE’s website. In addition, 24 percent of the energy provided by PGE is derived from coal.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has found that oxides of nitrogen and sulphur dioxide emissions from the Boardman plant contribute to regional haze and reduced visibility in at least 14 wilderness areas around Oregon and Washington.

According to a report released by the Northwest Environmental Defense Center, after a public hearing held on Boardman in 2007, “[the] PGE Boardman plant emits carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, particulate matter and mercury, among other pollutants.”

The DEQ has found that the Boardman power plant emits about 6 percent of Oregon’s total greenhouse gas emissions per year, or 4.3 million metric tons. It produces the most greenhouse gas emissions of any major industrial source in the state.

 To address these emissions and to comply with new air quality standards released by the DEQ, PGE announced in January that it would reduce its timeline for closure of the Boardman plant by 20 years, from 2040 to 2020.

Under this new plan—the Revised Integrated Resources Plan—PGE would install emissions controls that would cut mercury by 90 percent, and nitrogen oxide emissions by 50 percent, according to the company.

PGE’s decision to close the plant in 2020 as opposed to 2014 follows from concerns that early closure would lead to an undue burden on the 110 people that the plant employs, as well as higher costs on consumers who would need to bear the brunt of a less-than-smooth transition to natural gas or alternative energy resources in the vacant plant.

However, according to the Sierra Club Student Coalition—the organization heading the effort to close the plant—it is inevitable that a natural gas or other alternative energy source would appear on the Boardman site before 2020, and it would behoove the company to provide a very comfortable pension package to its employees who would need to retire early.

Despite concerns about the livelihoods of Boardman residents, Nokovic said that the major consumers of electricity produced at the coal-fired plant are Portland residents, and therefore the urban area should bear the responsibility of both pushing for sustainable and progressive energy policies, and taking care of those put out by the change.

Nokovic also said that because PGE is a relatively progressive energy company, the prospect of nearly immediate payback with green jobs created after Boardman closes should be reassuring.

The fact that PSU’s student government passed a resolution in solidarity with a network of local environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club and the Cascade Climate Network, makes a statement that a large portion of the metro area population is unsatisfied with the way PGE provides its energy.

PSU is also one of the largest purchasers of energy in the Oregon University System, due in large part to the fact that PSU is not a land grant school and does not have on-site energy production, according to Nokovic.

He said that because PSU is situated in the sustainability discourse, students and the university have a unique opportunity to realize its potential to push the envelope with sustainable practices, starting at the local and university level.

 “PSU has a great opportunity to be a part of a solutions-based learning program,” Nokovic said.

A major first step is convincing the administration that there is a way to change PSU’s purchasing and procurement policies to change the local market for major products, such as building materials and water bottles, according to Nokovic.

This is especially pertinent considering that PSU is one of the largest purchasers of plastic water bottles in the Portland Metro area, and could very easily choose to ban the use of them in campus spaces, thus making a huge impact both environmentally and economically.

There is also space to push local contractors and producers of building materials with whom the university contracts with to create and employ sustainable and environmentally friendly practices and materials.

Nokovic said that choosing to pressure PGE to close Boardman six years ahead of schedule is an equally admirable and desirable outcome. Not only would the plant’s closure be environmentally beneficial, but it would also show that local organizations are willing to “step up to the plate to be more socially responsible than the power companies.”