The Boardman Coal Plant, the last of its kind in Oregon, is scheduled to close for good by the end of 2020. In operation since 1980, the Portland General Electric-owned plant is capable of burning 8,000 tons of coal per day, and has produced enough energy to power 500,000 homes, according to a recent report by The Observer.
Those 8,000 daily tons have been Oregon’s largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions. In 2019 alone, the facility was responsible for sending roughly 2.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Despite this closure, Oregon will continue to receive about a third of its energy from out-of-state coal operations.
Boardman Coal Plant resides in Morrow County along the Columbia River, 160 miles east of Portland. The facility is voluntarily deciding to shut down, despite its long life expectancy.
“It was the first voluntary plant closure in the U.S. of its kind,” Rebecca Smith told The Observer. Smith is a senior policy analyst at the Oregon Department of Energy.
The plant’s termination was in large part due to economic and environmental pressures echoed at coal plants throughout the country. To meet the demands of strict emission control laws passed in 2010, PGE compromised to make short-term upgrades to limit sulfur and nitrogen emissions, and planned to shut down Boardman Coal Plant within the decade – instead of meeting the $600 million worth of upgrades required.
This gave the company and its employees time to prepare for the plant’s termination. “No employee in good standing will leave the company without the benefit of our support as they make this transition,” said PGE spokesperson Steve Corson.
In Smith’s calculation, the Boardman closure emphasizes Oregon’s role as being “on the bleeding edge” of the country’s transition away from coal.
In 2016, Gov. Kate Brown signed the Oregon Clean Electricity & Coal Transition Plan, with the goal of Oregon being the first U.S. state to end coal-fired power. The plan calls for a 50 percent increase in renewable energy by the year 2040, and the end of coal-generated energy entirely. PGE’s own goal is to reduce 80 percent of its 1990 level emissions by 2050.
Aside from PGE, Pacific Power and organizations such as the Oregon Environmental Council, Northwest Energy Coalition, and Sierra Club have supported the Oregon Clean Electricity & Coal Transition Plan since its inception.
By Stevie Beisswanger