Portland crosswalk with traffic
We did it! 100% clean and fossil-free Multnomah county buildings
Multnomah County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution ensuring all new county-owned buildings—including libraries, courthouses, and community centers—are built to be fossil-free and utilize 100% clean and renewable energy.

Clean power icon 120To stabilize the climate and avert catastrophic disruption, we must transition our economy away from fossil fuels–particularly our energy and transportation sectors–by mid-century.   Shifting our grid in the Pacific Northwest to rely on 100% clean and efficient power is the core foundation to building a clean energy economy.  And with very rapid progress in vehicle electrification and energy storage technologies, clean electricity can soon be a major part of the strategy for reducing transportation-related emissions.

The great news is we're already on our way and carbon-free electric power system is within reach.   If the entire economy is to be decarbonized by mid-century, the electric power sector in the Pacific Northwest will need to get there by the 2030s.   In 2019, the Washington Legislature passed one of the strongest policies in the country, with utilities having to transition off coal power by 2025 and offer 100% clean and carbon-free electricity by 2045.  With a strong renewable energy standard on the books already, Oregon could follow soon to also committing to 100% clean electricity, joining not just Washington but other states including Hawaii, California, New Mexico in the transition and being a model for others. 

Clean Power Pathways

The Northwest electric power system is already 71% carbon-free, making the region’s power supply as a whole less carbon-intensive than any other part of the U.S. The large base of existing hydropower both anchors the existing low-carbon system and, because it offers operational advantages over large thermal power plants, can serve as a relatively efficient platform for integrating renewable energy.  The major carbon pollution sources on the grid are already approaching functional and economic obsolescence; many coal plants are scheduled for retirement already, and no new ones are being built. 

The technologies to produce and use clean electric power, especially wind and solar energy, are relatively well-developed, diverse and commercialized now.  As the energy system makes greater use of rapid advances in information and communication technology, more pathways emerge on both the demand and supply sides for meeting energy service needs. 

While some bring up the need for "bridge fossil fuels" it's worth noting that while fossil methane is picking up some of the slack, it is with dubious climate benefits,[1] and there is little if any legitimate need for new investments in gas power plants or infrastructure.  Existing capacity can serve any foreseeable temporary need to use gas for system balancing.  A diverse array of flexible, low-cost strategies is emerging – including energy storage, efficiency, load management, smart grids, renewable energy diversity, and scheduling accuracy–to instantaneously balance electric power systems loads and resources.

Using energy wisely and renewable energy can save and deliver the kilowatt-hours we need.  But we will also need to upgrade the “system” hardware and software to unlock their full potential.  Grid modernization, smart grids, load management systems, storage solutions, and energy and transmission market reforms are vital and rapidly evolving parts of this “system upgrade.” 

We expect that renewable electric resources will be the primary focus of any new electric generating capacity needed to achieve decarbonization.[2]   It's essential to accelerate progress in financing, deploying, incentivizing, and integrating these technologies to get to a 100% clean grid.

Utilities and their regulators will need to evolve as well, developing financial and regulatory models that reward innovation, facilitate decarbonization to more distributed energy systems, protect consumers, and invest in communities historically impacted the most by pollution and lack of investment.


[1] Even low rates of methane leakage largely–or perhaps completely–balance out the advantage of gas over coal due to its lower CO2 production. But “better than coal” is not the appropriate test: even if leakage were not a problem, investment of long-term energy capital in new gas capacity is not consistent with the emission and investment trajectories necessary to meet climate stabilization imperatives.  See: “Key factors for assessing climate benefits of natural gas versus coal electricity generation.”

[2] Nuclear power plays a very limited role in the existing NW system, with only one commercial generating station in the region. New nuclear capacity using existing, commercialized technology is not competitive, nor is it being contemplated. New nuclear technology platforms are in the experimental stages, as are many other renewable energy technologies. While further innovation is likely, our focus will be primarily on deployment and operationalization of technologies and systems that have a reasonably clear sightline to safe and affordable commercialization. 


 

Photo of Multnomah County Main Library
We did it! 100% clean and fossil-free Multnomah county buildings

by Jonathan Lee on April 21, 2021

Multnomah County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution ensuring all new county-owned buildings—including libraries, courthouses, and community centers—are built to be fossil-free and utilize 100% clean and renewable energy.

Oregon Capitol in springtime
Oregonians: It's time to SPRING into climate action!

by Meredith Connolly on April 14, 2021

We're pleased to report forward progress on two of our high-priority climate bills.

Oregon charging ahead for clean energy

by Jonathan Lawson on March 26, 2021

Clean energy advocates in Oregon strategize for progress on electrical grid and EVs. Meanwhile, US banks are investing in climate chaos.

Photo of gold man statue atop the Oregon State Capitol building
Fire and Ice: How Oregon’s past year makes clear we need 100% clean electricity

by Meredith Connolly on March 12, 2021

Oregon continues to pump out more climate pollution every year, but we can pass 100% Clean right now to lay the foundation for a clean energy-based economy.

Photo of workers installing a public EV charger in Cottage Grove, Oregon.
Powering up Oregon's EV adoption rates

by Victoria Paykar on March 4, 2021

Ensuring that the future of Oregon’s transportation is electric—not burning fossil fuels—is critical for cleaning up our air and for achieving our state’s climate goals.

Stylized photo of Oregon State Capitol building
2021: Action time for climate in the Oregon Legislature

by Meredith Connolly on February 24, 2021

As the historic wildfires that devastated Oregon last September and the most recent ice storms make clear, climate chaos is here and harming Oregon’s communities and well-being now.

air pollution from gas power plant
A climate protection plan that exempts gas power plants(?!)

by Zach Baker on January 22, 2021

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has proposed exempting the state's fossil gas power plants from their Climate Protection Program. This cannot stand.

worker installing heat pump unit on wall with text overlay "clean buildings"
Living cleaner: why cities are shifting to all-electric buildings

by Deepa Sivarajan on January 21, 2021

We can make sure that our buildings are healthy and safe. A transition to all-electric will require our communities dispelling misinformation and speaking up for policies that move us off gas in an equitable and just way.

power lines pylons
Is Oregon's clean energy transition on track?

by Jonathan Lee on January 15, 2021

Join our discussion exploring what powers our energy system today, where the trends are headed, and it all means for an energy-smart, climate-safe future for Oregon.

worker installing heat pump unit on wall with text overlay "clean buildings"
The surprising economics behind going all-electric (hint, the numbers are pretty good)

by Deepa Sivarajan on December 11, 2020

So far our blog series on clean, all-electric buildings has shown how we can reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and improve our health and safety, but what about the economic impacts?