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PacifiCorp Plans Shift From Coal To Renewables & Storage

Long a laggard in the clean energy revolution, PacifiCorp is now proposing to invest billions in solar, wind, storage, and transmission line upgrades.

Say what you will about Warren Buffett and his vaunted business acumen. He may be a whiz at numbers, but when it comes to addressing the climate emergency created by burning fossil fuels, he is more inclined to dig in his heels than lead the charge into the future. PacifiCorp is owned by Buffett’s investment company, Berkshire Hathaway. According to Wikipedia, it has two divisions — Pacific Power, which serves customers in Oregon, northern California, and southeastern Washington, and Rocky Mountain Power, which serves customers in Utah, Wyoming, and southeastern Idaho.

wind turbine

Image: Zach Shahan |

The Yakima Herald reports that PacifiCorp derives 56% of its electricity from coal-fired plants, a statistic that has made it a target for criticism by environmental groups. Now, however, the company says it is embarking on a plan to close two-thirds of those emission-spewing beasts by 2030 and most of the rest by 2038 and replace them with wind and solar coupled with battery storage. Renewables “are simply more cost-effective to meet our customer needs,” said Rick Link, a PacifiCorp vice president, during a conference call with reporters.

During that time period, the utility company plans to invest billions of dollars in wind, solar, and battery storage. Here are the details of the PacifiCorp plan as reported by Green Tech Media.

  • 3,000 megawatts of new solar in Utah paired with 635 megawatts of battery storage, phased in between 2020 and 2037
  • 1,415 megawatts of new solar in Wyoming paired with 354 megawatts of battery storage, phased in between 2024 and 2038
  • 1,075 megawatts of new solar in Oregon paired with 244 megawatts of battery storage, phased in between 2020 and 2033
  • 814 megawatts of new solar in Washington paired with 204 megawatts of battery storage, phased in between 2024 and 2036.

Let’s stop right there for a second. Many of you vociferously suggest I am dumber than an avocado seed when it comes to citing energy storage numbers. While that may be true, this story has been reported by three different news sources and all of them, including Green Tech Media, which should know better, fail to use megawatt-hours when referring to the capacity of the planned storage facilities. Therefore, assume what they really mean in the numbers above is megawatt-hours not megawatts. Can we move on now? Thank you.

Christopher Thomas, a senior campaign manager for the Sierra Club, called the PacifiCorp plan “an important moment” because the utility is “acknowledging that its coal fleet is expensive and we have many cheaper options.” But he said the imperatives of climate change require a faster shutdown of PacifiCorp coal plants than the timeline announced by the company last week.

Rick Link insists shutting down the coal-fired power plants on a tighter timeline would risk a shortage of supply that could force the utility to purchase electricity on the spot market, which could be very expensive. The likelihood of that happening increases if other western utility companies also shut down their coal plants ahead of schedule.

State Sen. Reuven Carlyle, a Washington Democrat who helped enact the Washington state clean power law, says that “fundamental economics — not politics” is now driving the shift to renewables. “The gig is up and the market is moving.”

A significant piece of the transition to renewables will be a 400-mile long transmission line called Gateway South that will connect southwestern Wyoming and northern Utah to make delivery of renewable energy resources affordable, Spencer Hall, head of communications for Rocky Mountain Power, tells the Deseret News. The construction of a 140-mile transmission segment, Gateway West, is currently underway. By investing in transmission, “we can extend the reach and flexibility of the grid so more low cost energy can be delivered to our customers,” adds Chad Teply, senior vice president for business policy.

PacifiCorp has been slow to get off the schneid when it comes to embracing renewable energy and its plans are certainly less than ambitious compared to others in the industry. Nevertheless, the fact that one of America’s largest utility companies is turning its back on coal is good news for us all — at least those who think having a planet that is capable of sustaining human life is a worthwhile goal.

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Written By

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. 3000 years ago, Socrates said, "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." Perhaps it's time we heed his advice.


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