This is a guest post by Nick Abraham, originally published on Oil Check Northwest
As you are reading this, a crucial compromise is making its way through the Oregon legislature: the state could finally transition completely off coal power and double its renewable energy portfolio.
Currently, Oregon still gets about 30% of its electricity from coal. This all comes from the state’s two largest utilities: PGE and Pacific Power. PGE purchases power from massive coal fired plants in Coalstrip, Montana as well as Boardman, Oregon (set to be shutdown in 2020), while Pacific Power pulls from their whole western grid, which is fed by 20+ coal plants.
Despite these two utilities historic reliance on coal, they’ve come to an unprecedented agreement with environmental groups and consumers to wean themselves off dirty energy over the next 30 years.
The Citizens Utility Board, an electricity ratepayer advocacy group, is championing the deal, which it calls, “best for consumers, best for utilities and best for the environment.” This trifecta of groups rarely sees eye-to-eye on small issues, much less a massive leap like this agreement. It’s one of those rare moments where everyone seems to be on the same page. That is except one rarely heard of regional association.
Since the bill was announced, a group called the Industrial Customers of Northwest Utilities (ICNU) has launched a massive campaign to stall the coal transition legislation. While some of ICNU’s members like Intel, Microsoft and Legacy Health have generally been reliable clean energy champions, the group itself has ties to the coal industry and Koch Industries (of Koch brothers infamy).
ICNU Executive Director John Carr already penned a searing op-ed for the Oregonian in which he claims his members do not support the Oregon Clean Electricity & Coal Transition bill and the group is aggressively lobbying legislators for this year’s short session.
ICNU’s governing board and staff include individuals with ties to the coal industry and fossil fuel giant Koch Industries. Georgia-Pacific, which is owned by Koch Industries, has an executive on the board of ICNU. The Kochs also own Koch Carbon – a company that trades and transports coal products and has a clear financial stake in preventing any legislation that adds another nail to their waning industry’s coffin.
ICNU’s Oregon lobbyist, Public Affairs Counsel, represents Koch Companies, LLC, and its attorney, Davison Van Cleve, represents Georgia-Pacific. ICNU also is represented by a consultant, Energy Strategies, LLC, which specializes in helping oil, coal and gas companies circumvent regulations, with clients including Pittsburgh and Midway Coal, Exxon, Chevron and Conoco Phillips.
Beyond these Koch and coal connections, ICNU also has some dubious members that may be tipping the scales toward protecting the status quo and could explain the organization’s consistent opposition to renewable energy.
Numerous petro-chemical companies are members, including Shell Oil and Tesoro Oil, which many know locally from their efforts to build a massive new oil-by-rail project in Vancouver, WA, that could bring mile-long crude oil trains through the Columbia River Gorge daily.
Intel's Ronler Acres campus in Hillsboro Oregon
Why is Intel allowing ICNU to speak for them?Amid all the dirty energy interests tied to ICNU, global IT giant Intel—usually a reliable public champion for clean energy—is an odd fit.
The company has consistently set a powerful example for industry peers when it comes to supporting a clean energy future.
Intel was the #1 renewable energy user among major corporations in 2014 and has been consistently ranked at the top over the last 5 years. The company signed onto the 2015 White House Climate pledge and has its own continuously improving corporate-wide Climate Pledge. Intel even signed the local Oregon climate declaration, specifically calling for robust action on pollution in the state. Locally, the chipmaker has walked the walk as well, building two solar installations on its Hillsboro Oregon campuses, a total of 900 kW.
Which begs the question why would Intel be part of an organization so adamantly fighting a state level clean energy transition?
This is a troubling connection and brings into question why this tech colossus would join, much less sit on the board of an organization that is so inconsistent with the company’s stated values.
Major corporations like Intel have made a public relations commitment to appearing supportive of a transition to clean energy. But when an opportunity like what's happening in Oregon is presented, organizations like ICNU are doing much of the talking.
The rest of us are left not knowing where companies like Intel really stand.
by Nick Abraham, Editor, Oil Check Northwest
Blog image credit: Coal trains near North Antelope Rochelle Mine in Wyoming, photo by Kimon Berlin