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Oregon Set To Become First Coal-Free State (huffingtonpost.com) 127

New submitter daubney writes: Oregon lawmakers have approved legislation to eliminate coal from the state's electrical supply by 2035, the first U.S. state to do so. The bill, called the Clean Electricity and Coal Transition plan, commits the state to doubling its use of renewable energy, including solar and wind, to 50 percent by 2040. The bill, passed this week by both legislative branches, now heads to Gov. Kate Brown. Brown said in a statement that the legislation "equips Oregon with a bold and progressive path towards the energy resource mix of the future." Today, roughly one-third of Oregon's power is produced from coal, according to the Oregon Department of Energy. The measure makes Oregon the first state to eliminate coal by legislative action, The Associated Press reports. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Oregon is matched only by Hawaii, with a 100 requirement by 2045, Vermont, with a 75 percent target by 2032, and California and New York, with 50 percent goals by 2030.
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Oregon Set To Become First Coal-Free State

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    AFAIK, we here in the UK are going to be Coal Free (for power generation) by 2020. If it isn't then it will be soon after.
    Several of our largest Coal fired power stations now burn Bio Mass rather than Fossil Fuel.

    • Fossil fuels are just more 'refined' biomass.

      • Nope. Fossil fuel add to GHGs in the atmosphere. Biomass can be neutral.
        • They can only add what they took. It was just taken a very long time ago. It's still zero sum

          • No, not at all. Check out realclimate.org
          • If timescales didn't matter your point would have some relevance. Zero sum over millions of years has a vastly different real world effect from zero sum over a growing season.

            Zero sum over long time scale (burning coal) means an increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases, year over year. The fact that no Carbon was actually destroyed or created in the process is irrelevant here.

            If you want to go down that road, let's just skip straight to "universe started, universe will end, nothing in the middle matters."

            • universe started, universe will end

              :-) Sure about that? Maybe you meant planet earth. As for the universe we don't have a clue.

              And I hope nobody is taking my comments as some 'pro-coal' thing. Personally, I prefer nukes. Doing it right does not have to be a big issue. Great abundance is at our fingertips in many forms.

              The fact that no Carbon was actually destroyed or created in the process is irrelevant here.

              Right, it's the balance that we change. Dominant species tend to do that to their environments. Not

              • There is about 80 years of economically useful uranium left at the current rate of use. Not a great abundance.
                • We can always make more. We just haven't looked in all the right places. Besides that, the deepest hole we ever dug only goes about 6 miles. There's ~3994 more to go. And the key word is 'economic'. That is a term I measure in human effort. Let the machines dig it up.

                  • So, nuclear is already the most expensive form of new generation and existing nukes can't compete with wind or gas in the midwest and northeast but you want to make it more expensive?
                • You aren't counting thorium, the stuff on the Colorado plateau we don't know about because it's a national park/reservation, and what's in space.
              • Did you know we exhale between 1.5 and 2 tons of CO2 every year? A mere 5% of that from burnt fuel, but let's all do our part, eh? A little less of this 'fitness' nonsense with all the heavy breathing. Besides, you're probably driving to the gym, so you'll be saving even more. Do the planet a favor, watch the game on TV and take a nap.

                Ah, a zombie argument that never dies. The 1.5-2 tons of CO2 a person exhales every year comes from CO2 that plants inhaled the year before (approximately). The net effect on CO2 levels is zero. Now it's true that a lot of fossil fuel CO2 gets emitted in the production and delivery of food but that doesn't directly affect the CO2 you exhale.

              • by gtall ( 79522 )

                "As for the universe we don't have a clue." Actually, we do. The Universe is expanding because of dark energy. In few trillion years, there will be only island galaxies (I might be off by a trillion or two) which cannot see anything around them, not even the echos of the Big Bang we can see now. After that, the galaxies collapse into black holes and there is nothing...which is actually something...quantum virtual particle pair creation means more or less that emptiness is unstable. So eventually, another sm

          • by dywolf ( 2673597 )

            not on any meaningful scale related to the carbon cycle

        • Nope. Fossil fuel add to GHGs in the atmosphere. Biomass can be neutral.

          Technically fossil fuels can be carbon neutral too if you look at million year timescales and take efforts to preserve peat bogs and the like which will become coal in a few millions years from now. The problem is that this sort of timescale involves a lot of carbon stored in the atmosphere in the form of CO2 which will trigger significant climate change. What we need are power sources which are carbon dioxide neutral on short timescales which is what biomass is and fossil fuels are not.

          • Technically, fossil fuel add to GHGs in the atmosphere. Biomass can be neutral.
            • Technically, fossil fuel add to GHGs in the atmosphere.

              ...and where do you think those fossil fuels got the carbon in them from? All fossil fuels are is biomass that has lain around for a few millions years. If biomass is carbon neutral then technically so are fossil fuels the difference is that the cycle is a far longer one so it does not appear that way.

    • by dywolf ( 2673597 )

      and that ultimately is a real sign of progress, the UK being one of the original heavy coal users, along with Germany, and dependent upon it more than most.

  • Is this the best step? I was under the impression there are designs available for coal plants* that don't emit anything but CO2?

    *Yes, obviously the eventual goal is to stop with the fossil fuels completely; I just wonder if this is doing things in the right order (what can I say; this tree-hugger gets suspicious when other tree-huggers look like they might ve putting idealism ahead of reality...).

    • by AJWM ( 19027 ) on Sunday March 06, 2016 @01:39PM (#51648675) Homepage

      Designs do not a power plant make. And frankly, I doubt the designs reflect anything real-world-buildable at a price anyone is willing to pay in the time frame in which they'll be useful.

      The fact is, if coal plants had to meet the same standards for radioactive emissions that nuclear plants do (which they don't), they'd have to be shut down. (They're burning so much coal per plant that even the traces of radon, radium, thorium etc in that coal are significant. Not to mention other fun thinks like arsenic.)

      Even if you processed the coal until was 100.00% carbon (at what cost?), so that the plant really is only emitting CO2 ... CO2 is what you don't want if you're worried about it as a greenhouse gas. And what do you do with all the crap you scrub out of the coal and/or smoke? That arsenic has a toxic half-life of infinity (or until the protons decay, effectively the same thing).

      • by HornWumpus ( 783565 ) on Sunday March 06, 2016 @01:55PM (#51648775)

        Most of the real nasties are collected in the bottom ash. Which is rich enough in Uranium is would be 'ore' if it wasn't so loaded with mercury etc. Loopholes in EPA regs specifically for bottom ash or coal would be non-viable today.

        Bottom ash was used as a substitute for road salt when the conditions where right. Didn't melt snow, but provided traction and was free to small coal plant owning cities. Yet another case where having government run industry doesn't clean up the industry and further corrupts the government.

        • by GNious ( 953874 )

          Most of the real nasties are collected in the bottom ash. Which is rich enough in Uranium is would be 'ore' if it wasn't so loaded with mercury etc. Loopholes in EPA regs specifically for bottom ash or coal would be non-viable today.

          Bottom ash was used as a substitute for road salt when the conditions where right. Didn't melt snow, but provided traction and was free to small coal plant owning cities. Yet another case where having government run industry doesn't clean up the industry and further corrupts the government.

          Clearly not enough uranium, if it doesn't melt the snow.

      • I am surprised you left out the most "fun" of the elements emitted by coal plants: mercury. In fact, coal plants emit so much of the damn thing, that they have effectively changed the nutritional value of salmon: some 30 years ago salmon used to be highly recommended for babies, in Northern Europe, but now it is considered harmful because of the high content of mercury.

      • they'd have to be shut down. (They're burning so much coal per plant that even the traces of radon, radium, thorium etc in that coal are significant. Not to mention other fun thinks like arsenic.)
        a) depends heavily on the "type of coal" ... coal is not magically contaminated with uranium
        b) it usually lands in the ash, so it is not "polluting" the environment ... so your claim it is "more radioactive" than a nuclear plant is simply wrong

      • by MercTech ( 46455 )

        INPO had a lovely report in 1993 on radioactive traces emitted out the stack of coal fired plants. The study covered 1980-1990.

        Nuclear plants, nationwide, controlled and disposed of 7,000,000 Ci of low level radioactive waste a year. Note the "controlled disposal" bit, please.

        Based on coal usage and average contaminant levels; coal power plants were putting 300,000 Ci out their stacks per week.

        Hmm, assuming 50 weeks a year for 24/7 operations that would be a total of 15,000,000 Ci released to the environm

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Even if you manage to make the plant itself relatively clean, you have to get that coal out the ground and transport it first.

      What we are seeing now is countries vying to get ahead in gaining experience doing these large deployments of renewables and re-balancing their grids. They can see the writing on the wall and want to be the leaders, the ones selling their services to everyone else who came late to the game.

    • by mikael ( 484 )

      And there are plans to design batteries that be charged up from the CO2 in the air. Imagine if the two can be coupled together and you will have zero emissions coal stations.

      • And there are plans to design batteries that be charged up from the CO2 in the air.

        I think you've wildly misinterpreted a previous story. They can create carbon electrodes from atmospheric CO2.

        Converting an entire station's CO2 output into electrodes is going to leave you with too many electrodes to put into batteries, so you'll have to store them somewhere. Might as well use a more efficient form of carbon capture.

        That line at the end about carbon-neutral coal stations was nonsense.

    • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Sunday March 06, 2016 @01:57PM (#51648785)

      there are designs available for coal plants* that don't emit anything but CO2?

      Emissions are only one concern. There is a lot of environmental damage caused by mining the coal. Better scrubbers don't fix that problem. Coal emits twice as much CO2 as gas, and gas is just as cheap, is cleaner to extract and transport, and has no sulfur, mercury, or cadmium. Gas turbines are also more responsive to fluctuations in demand, so are a better match for wind/solar.

    • There are alternatives available now. There's no excuse to be expanding, or even maintaining, coal fired plants. Put that money into building alternatives.

    • I was under the impression there are designs available for coal plants* that don't emit anything but CO2?

      I think that's the point. CO2 is a greenhouse gas and trying to avoid pumping lots of it into the atmosphere is probably a good idea since there is an increasing body of evidence that it is impacting our climate.

    • by amorsen ( 7485 )

      Is this the best step? I was under the impression there are designs available for coal plants* that don't emit anything but CO2?

      Not just designs, most moderne coal-fired power plants are almost clean except for CO2. That doesn't help when CO2 is the problem.

    • Scrubbing contaminants is inefficient unfortunately. You can deal with 10-micron particulate matter, NOx, SOx, and I believe Mercury with reasonable pain, but it has consequences. As an example, the PM-10 is converted to smaller particles which are actually more carcinogenic.

      Ultimately as a fuel source it just has too much carbon relative to the hydrogen, along with a whole lot of other non-productive elements.

    • There are three dangerous pollutants in coal burning: oxides of sulfur, heavy metals and particulates. The latest exhaust treatment technology has come very close to completely eliminating all three of these pollutants. (Remember back in the 1960's and 1970's we had major concerns about "acid rain"? Today, thanks to emission controls to remove oxides of sulfur, nobody talks about that issue anymore.)

      China should aggressively install the latest exhaust emission control technologies at all their coal-fired po

  • You still need base load capacity which neither solar or wind is currently (nor likely ever will be) capable of. Unless you replace that with nuke plants, then you will simply be buying your base load from out of state, and STILL using fossil fuels.
    • Natural gas or oil plants.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Oregon has geothermal in the pipeline and Hydro power in its current energy mix. Both are designed to allow for base load capacity. I admit, geothermal requires specific geography (that Oregon has) But its well established that you don't "need" Coal / Oil / Natural gas.

      • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Sunday March 06, 2016 @01:44PM (#51648699)
        Hydro doesn't have enough capacity to provide base load. Try getting permits to build a new dam in Oregon. The environmentalists will flambe you and eat you for breakfast.

        Hydro's ability to quickly throttle up or down as needed makes it the best power source for dynamic peaking load.. That's why hydro's capacity factor [wikipedia.org] is only around 40%. There's a fixed amount of water every year, and they save it shape the power generation profile to match peaking load. Using hydro for base load would just create a new problem - what power source do you use for peaking load? Right now the best alternative is gas plants, which is a fossil fuel.

        Geothermal still needs to be proven. The one place geothermal has worked out well (Iceland) is blessed with shallow geothermal vents. In the rest of the world, you have to drill deep into the ground to make it work. In fact, it's almost exactly the same procedure as fracking since you need to maximize the surface contact area between the rocks and the water you pump down there.
        • Oregon exports a lot of hydro to SoCal. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wik... [wikipedia.org] so your generalist point misses the mark here. With SoCal burgeoning in solar, likely the intertie will reverse.
        • There aren't a lot of places in Oregon to build significant new sources of hydro power. The Columbia river is dammed from tidewater at Bonneville Dam to the Oregon border. I guess you could put another dam in Hells Canyon or on the Deschutes River but that's not politically viable.

          BTW, the 4 dams along the Columbia River in Oregon are run of the river dams that are not very useful for peaking load. If they don't run the water through the generators they have to spill it to keep the reservoirs from overfl

        • The environmentalists will flambe you and eat you for breakfast.

          Well, at least they don't need fossil fuels to flambé!

    • by DamonHD ( 794830 )

      "Base load" is an artifact of how we have gotten used to running grids. And most nukes are as difficult to turn down as renewables are to turn up, in practice.

      Rgds

      Damon

      • "Base load" is the logistic equivalent of shifting fast- and far-moving traffic onto highways. By using a highway/grid, you ignore the individual variances in driving habits/power usage which is probably only 20%-50% predictable, and combine it into a statistical whole which is 90%+ predictable. The "base load" covers the predictable 90%, while dynamic peaking load plants only have to be able to cover the other 10%.

        Unless you like your electronics being fried by brownouts and power surges, predictabili
        • Your thoughts on this are behind the times. http://m.pnas.org/site/misc/co... [pnas.org]
        • by DamonHD ( 794830 )

          If a thermal plant,such as a nuke trips then you can't turn it up either, not it a hurry.

          The last significant UK (well GB) load shedding, of 500k people, was due to a large nuke tripping off-line unexpectedly, followed by a large coal plant.

          Dispersed renewables don't tend to fail suddenly in blocks like that for a start.

          So, different generation sources have strengths and weaknesses.

          Increased storage and demand management will greatly change what we take as axiomatic in running the grid today.

          And the chief e

    • by AJWM ( 19027 )

      I think Oregon has or borders a few rivers where they could use hydroelectric for their base load. Wait, yes, yes it does. Over half of Oregon's power now is hydroelectric.

      Not that I have anything against nukes. Ontario, Canada, has a pretty good mix of hydro and nuclear.

    • A paper published last year demonstrates you are mistaken in this. In fact, it recently won an award from PNAS, the top US science journal. http://thesolutionsproject.org... [thesolutionsproject.org]
    • by Kohath ( 38547 )

      Oregon will buy non-coal power from surrounding states and Canada at a big premium, outbidding others. Canada and Idaho will use the coal power and pay smaller energy bills.

    • "ever will be" is a STRONG claim...

  • They finally decided to burn all those old tyres.

  • Hmm. (Score:4, Informative)

    by pushing-robot ( 1037830 ) on Sunday March 06, 2016 @02:26PM (#51648913)

    Oregon Set To Become First Coal-Free State

    That's going to take a lot of mining.

    • Actually Oregon doesn't have any significant and economically viable coal deposits. A small coal seam on the south coast near Coos Bay is the only one I'm aware of.

  • Oregon only has one coal fired power plant - Boardman and it was already slated to be shut down in 2020. So being coal free by 2035 is not going to happen by government mandate. But hey, politicians always like to take credit for things they really didn't do.

    • What the legislation does is force the electrical utilities in the state (primarily Pacific Power and Portland General Electric) to not buy coal power from plants outside of the state (mostly from Montana). The electrical utilities are on board with this because they faced a ballot measure in the fall that would have forced them off of coal power even faster than this legislation. The legislation was a compromise negotiated by the electrical utilities and environmentalists to head off the ballot measure.

      • It is impossible to not use electricity from coal plants outside the state. Once the electrons hit the wire, they lose their identity as to where they come from. But lets say, they pay a utility to get electricity from a nuclear plant. If that outstate utility produces 30% of its power with coal, then you are still getting power via coal. The legislation does nothing but give the appearance of doing something, unless they are going to run new transmission lines directly to the outstate non-coal provider pl

        • It's impossible to say where an electron comes from once it gets on the grid but if the utilities are not paying any coal power plants for their power they are in effect not using coal power because they've bought enough power from non-coal sources that goes to the the grid is more than enough to satisfy Oregon's needs. If that non-coal power produced electron goes somewhere else the effect is still the same.

          • I agree, but that just doesn't happen. All utilities buy from a surplus for peak times. During those times, utilities don't get to pick and choose where their electricity is coming from, nor do their customers. So, even if Oregon only allows their utilities to purchase from non-coal producers, those non-coal producers will still get electricity from coal to supplement their demand loads.

            What they are proposing is like saying that Oregonians will only use oxygen produced by their own trees. It simply doesn

            • This is not the whole story, and sort of misses the point.

              By not buying coal power, it doesn't matter that it's fungible: You are creating a market for non-coal power. Every MWHr of coal power not purchased by the state of Oregon needs to be replaced with a MWHr from some other source.

              It does necessarily not follow that other markets will simply offset the usage, either. Since generation capacity and usage must be matched, and it is safe to assume that the coal plant already operates at or near capacity for

  • There is a feedback loop with all fossil fuels. As you wean off of them, the financial case for weaning off of them becomes challenging.

    It's the right thing to do, but early adopters may look foolish for a few years when actually they are being wise.

    • by iris-n ( 1276146 )

      This is an interesting point; I wonder if one can find historical analogues to better understand how the process goes.

      Of course, the price of coal cannot decrease forever; as it sinks below cost mining will simply becoming unprofitable. This is already happening in Poland [politico.eu], mostly due to their inefficient mining.

  • I imagine on the books they can make it look like they've gone coal free, but I wonder if they can actually DO it in the real world. I'd wager that what they'll actually be doing is something like what many residential solar customers do, pump significant amounts of energy into the grid on sunny days and pull in coal/wind/nuclear/solar/hydroelectric power in at night/on cloudy days. They claim that they're running on clean power but in reality if they disconnected themselves from "undesired" power sources

  • Rather than shooting for "0 coal" or "0 hydrocarbons" by a fixed date, I'd rather see politicians, the energy industry, and industries that use large amounts of energy (the transportation industry comes to mind) work together shoot for "50% reductions," "75% reductions," and "95% reductions" of today's values by certain target dates.

    Instead of spending relatively large amounts of money going from "95% reduction" to "zero use," spend that money on other things, like creating air-scrubbers to "undo" the effec

  • Worldwide, just number 64 [worldbank.org]...
  • Sorry, Oregon, but my state (MD) is going to beat you to it if I have anything to say about it. We can do it in ten years for just $15 billion by just building another nuclear power plant.
  • Now, when it's calm and at night, the streetlights all go out, thus making it an attractive destination for astronomers with big resistors and backup generators.
  • Satisfying all those hippies is just going to make it colder for everyone else - when the alternatives fail to perform.

  • If Oregon will be coal-free by 2035, then Washington state will be way ahead by being coal-free by 2025. There is only one coal-fed electric facility in Washington state. It has two boilers. The first will be shutdown in 2020 and the second will be shutdown in 2025. Oregon will not be the first state to go coal-free.

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