Oregon PUC Directs to Eletrification

Oregon PUC Rejects All Three Oregon Gas Utilities’ Long Term Emission-Reduction Plans, Directs Them To Evaluate Electrification

Columbia Riverkeeper teams with Tribes, nonprofits, and people across the State of Oregon to advocate for a just transition from fossil fuels. In a recent win, the Oregon Public Utility Commission rejected all three Oregon gas utilities’ long term emission-reduction plans and directed them to evaluate electrification.


In Unprecedented Move, Oregon PUC Rejects All Three Oregon Gas Utilities’ Long Term Emission-Reduction Plans, Directs Them To Evaluate Electrification

Media Contacts: 
Dylan Plummer; 541.531.1858; dylan.plummer@sierraclub.org 

While the PUC acknowledged short-term elements of the plans, it did not acknowledge any of the utilities’ long-term plans, deeming them insufficient to reach climate targets

March 20, 2024 (Salem, Ore) – The Public Utility Commission (PUC) declined to acknowledge Cascade Natural Gas’ proposed multi-decade investment plan at a meeting yesterday afternoon, deeming it insufficient to meet state climate targets. With the rejection of Cascade’s plan, the PUC has now rejected plans from all of three gas utilities in Oregon, citing uncertainty in their plans to decarbonize. This unprecedented move from regulators is an important signal of the added scrutiny gas utilities in Oregon face following the signing of Former Governor Brown’s Executive Order on climate (Executive Order 20-04).  

“When your bath is overflowing, the first thing to do is turn off the tap. Similarly, the first step to fighting the climate crisis is to stop expanding fossil fuel infrastructure and to parse through the many false solutions, such as biomethane and green hydrogen, presented by industry to find viable pathways to decarbonization,” said Carra Sahler, Director of Lewis & Clark Law School’s Green Energy Institute. “Yesterday’s decision caps a year of forward progress at the PUC, setting the stage for Oregon to meet its climate goals and to address the emissions associated with the gas system through electrification.” 

In the past 6 months, in a victory for climate and consumer advocates, regulators also rejected the long-term components of the plans submitted by Avista Utilities and Northwest Natural, Oregon’s other two gas utilities. The utilities’ proposals all envisioned massive spending on hydrogen, synthetic methane and biogas in the coming decades—fuels that are less affordable, less available, and less effective than electric alternatives at cutting pollution from homes and buildings. 

The next step in the process is for all of the gas utilities to submit updates to their plans in the next 12 months, to align with the Commission’s recommendations. 

“Electrification, replacing gas appliances with high-efficiency electric appliances, is an option gas utilities must consider,” said John Garrett, Utility Analyst for Oregon Citizens’ Utility Board. “We cannot risk Oregonians’ ability to heat their homes affordably on a fantasy of synthetic methane or other non-fossil gas being what we need when we need it.”

Advocates expressed concern to the Commission about existing ratepayers subsidizing expansion of the gas system. The Commissioners recognized the risk of Cascade’s current policy, which gives developers 40 feet of pipeline to connect to homes and buildings for free, which is the most generous subsidy of its kind in Oregon. The Commissioners requested that the policy be revised, saying in the hearing, “We need to get after that, one way or another.”

“As Oregon increasingly experiences first hand the impacts of the climate crisis, in the form of droughts, heatwaves, flash floods, and extreme wildfires, it is untenable for ratepayers to be forced to subsidize the expansion of the gas system,” said Dylan Plummer, Senior Field Organizing Strategist with the Sierra Club. “The Commission’s comments on reevaluation of Cascade’s line extension allowance subsidy were promising, and we hope that they will take action to eliminate the subsidy completely.”

Advocates also turned out to ask for more oversight of Cascade’s investment in the controversial GTN Xpress pipeline expansion project. The uncertainty surrounding the project, coupled with forecasting that demonstrates the new gas may not be necessary, shows that GTN Xpress is not a prudent investment and creates unacceptable risk to ratepayers. Individuals from Cascade’s territory underscored the impacts of climate change in their communities, and the trend toward eliminating fossil fuel use in homes and businesses. At the hearing, the PUC referenced the potential risks associated with the GTN pipeline, comparing it to coal power plants.

“We are thankful that the PUC is seeing GTN Xpress as a risky investment. Just as we would not build  a new coal plant in this day and age, we should not be expanding massive gas pipelines,” said Satya Austin-Opper, Campaign Coordinator for 350 Deschutes. “Ratepayers in Bend are calling for Cascade to walk away from its risky commitment to buy gas from GTN Xpress.”

Youth activists in Bend also highlighted to the PUC the ongoing effort to transition the city off of natural gas, with Bend City Council directing its Environment and Climate Committee to develop proposed ordinance language to support electrification.

“Electrifying the city is essential to meeting our climate goals,” said Amelia DuBose, an organizer with Fridays for Future Bend. “Continuing to expand on fossil fuel and methane gas projects and infrastructure will only hurt our communities.” 

Washington State’s Utility and Transportation Commission (UTC) is on a similar track, having rejected Cascade Natural Gas’ IRP earlier this year, with decisions expected on the IRPs of its other gas utilities, Puget Sound Energy, Avista, and NW Natural, in the coming months. If the UTC rejects all of these IRPs, which advocates consider very likely based on staff recommendations, it would be the first time in the nation that fossil fuel utilities faced such intense scrutiny across an entire region.


Climate advocates that collaborated on the Oregon PUC effort include: Citizens Climate Lobby, Climate Reality Project, Energize Bend, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Environmental Center, 350Deschutes, the Green Energy Institute at Lewis & Clark Law School, Climate Solutions, Columbia Riverkeeper, and the Sierra Club.