Policy Brief: Oregon’s Electrifying Opportunity to Lead the Clean-Energy Economy

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We have the technology, spirit of innovation and talent in Oregon to make a fast and fruitful transition to an economy powered by clean energy. Our true obstacles are fear and inertia. 

Oregon’s Legislature and governor should be proud of what they’ve accomplished so far, but more must be done. We need new, bolder policies to electrify everything. With Oregon on track to 100% clean electricity, our cars, buses, trucks, the heating and cooling of our homes and buildings, and our industrial processes must be electrified. 

According to sophisticated computer modeling by the nonpartisan Energy Innovation think tank, Oregon’s current climate and energy policies — like our Clean Fuels Program, 100% Clean Electricity for All, Clean Truck Rules, and more — will at best deliver less than half of the cuts in climate pollution needed in the next crucial decade. Coal, oil and methane “natural” gas must be phased out. 

The fossil-fuel industry and an ever-shrinking group of corporate obstructionists prey on fear and inertia in people, politicians and powerbrokers to delay the inevitable. According to all credible science globally, further delaying a transition away from fossil fuels means locking in a future of deadly heat waves, unimaginable wildfire and permanent drought. This will lead to sickness, economic depression, food and water shortages, war, and political and economic instability.

A better future awaits Oregonians in a clean-energy economy. In the most successful scenario, the Energy Innovation analysis shows bold policies would “increase the state’s GDP by almost $4 billion annually and create more than 18,000 jobs in 2050.” Reducing air pollution from fossil fuels brings a huge boost to health, too, “nearly $5 billion in monetized public health and climate benefits in 2050” with the greatest benefit to people of color. Before the pandemic disruption, Oregon’s growing clean energy economy employed nearly 57,000 people — from electricians, carpenters and HVAC technicians to those working in green sectors like biofuel refining to wind and solar power, according to business advocacy groups E2 and Oregon Business for Climate. Those same sectors are rebounding and, with new policies, could grow faster.

Good policies lead to real-world outcomes and Oregon market leadership. Our law requiring a transition to 100% clean electricity by 2040 will spur jobs and innovative projects, like Portland General Electric’s Wheatridge Renewable Energy Facility in Morrow County. It’s the first major renewable power plant of its kind in North America, combining solar, wind and battery storage. It began producing clean electricity the same year the last coal power plant in Oregon shut down.

The Clean Fuels Program has driven investment in electric vehicle charging stations in every corner of Oregon, including rural towns like Athena, Astoria and Ashland. It helped pay for new electric school buses from Sherwood to Beaverton to Bend. Homegrown businesses like SeQuential have thrived, doubling their workforce, while churning out millions of gallons of cleaner-burning biodiesel made from waste grease from restaurants. 

The Advanced Clean Trucks rule adopted in 2021 will require new sales of vans, buses, and trucks to be increasingly zero-emissions. Many of those trucks will be built at Daimler’s expanding electric truck manufacturing facilities in Oregon, which touts the nation’s first public charging stations for trucks, called Electric Island, right off I-5. 

Successful Oregon builders are constructing efficient housing and commercial buildings — even affordable housing like Orchards at Orenco in Hillsboro — thanks to better techniques and materials, with heating and cooling, hot water and cooking all powered by electricity. There is also an incredible opportunity for good-paying jobs and benefits to homeowners, renters, school kids and workers from retrofitting our existing houses, apartments, schools and other buildings to be more efficient, comfortable and healthy inside. 

Oregon’s new Climate Protection Program — a groundbreaking policy requiring fossil-fuel companies, mostly oil and gas, and large industrial polluters to lower greenhouse gases over the next 28 years — holds even more potential success. It sets a schedule and a destination for reducing pollution while allowing for efficiency and innovation to meet the mandatory targets. Large polluters — like NW Natural Gas, big oil and a collection of corporate lobbying organizations — are suing Oregon to roll back this clean-air protection.

To meet the Climate Protection Program targets and beyond, new policies should send market signals for clean transformation in the transportation and buildings sectors, which need special attention as Oregon’s two largest fossil-fuel polluters. 

We must embrace and incentivize all-electric construction, end subsidies and phase out methane gas from new homes and buildings, while we retrofit existing ones; set a date when all new cars and trucks sold must be zero-emissions, as General Motors and Honda already have, while investing in charging stations and rebates for electric vehicles; and shift investments in infrastructure to transit, safe walking and biking, and road safety and maintenance. 

Now is not the time for delay and rolbacks. Now is the time for creative policies and investments to keep Oregon among the leaders in clean energy, and to allow our workforce to capitalize on the rapid progress already underway.

Brad Reed is the campaign manager for Renew Oregon, a statewide coalition of businesses and workers, health care professionals and parents, farmers and ranchers, faith and community organizations, and individuals coming together to move from polluting energy to an equitable, clean-energy economy.