Boardman’s chimney demolished, marking the end of the Oregon coal-burning era

Thursday demolition contractor The tall chimney blew up and a 19-story boiler building at the Portland General Electric coal-fired power plant near Boardman, making a close symbol of the Oregon coal-fired era. Imported electricity generated from coal still flows through transmission wires across the Pacific Northwest, but that appears to be ending soon, too.

Watch the demolition video:

Strategically placed explosives toppled the 656-foot-high stack like a logger that would topple a tree and collapse the adjacent boiler building into a pile of concrete blocks and twisted steel. In seconds, a huge cloud of dust covered the partially dismantled coal plant. A small crowd of onlookers invited by PGE, including former factory workers, mostly refrained from applauding or cheering because the moment was filled with sadness or gloom for many.

“Very emotional for me and very emotional for a lot of the people I’ve worked with for a number of years,” he said. PGE Vice President of Facilities Operations Brad Jenkins, former plant manager at Boardman.

“The coal plant was just a working pillar of the fleet for 40 years,” Jenkins said. “But if you look around the landscape here, we have a lot of clean, renewable resources coming in. We’re transitioning and that’s just part of that transformation.”

Towering smoke fell at the shuttered Portland General Electric coal power plant near Boardman, heralding the end of the era of coal power generation in Oregon, September 15, 2022.

MacGregor Campbell / OPB

PGE broadcast the controlled demolition on social media but did not allow for comments. Before the explosion, a few people on the facility’s Facebook page bemoaned the coal plant’s demise. A recurring theme among these commentators has been that the Northwest needs reliable base load power such as what Boardman provided to balance intermittent renewables.

Jenkins said the fleet of natural gas power plants in the region will provide grid stability for the coming years until it is phased out and replaced with upgraded zero-emission technologies.

A long legacy in central Colombia in a cloud of smoke and dust

Boardman’s coal plant operated from 1980 until his early retirement in 2020. It is located in Morrow County about 11 miles southwest of Boardman–where the nearest dwellings are–and about an hour’s drive from the eastern end of the Columbia River Gorge. The plant’s 585 megawatts of generating capacity has long been the largest source of electricity for Oregon’s largest utility. It was also the state’s largest single source of global warming pollution. There are now no coal-fired power plants within Oregon.

“It’s kind of bitter,” said Morrow County Commissioner Don Russell, who was friends with several coal plant workers and was looking from his home at the historic stack, which was taller than the Space Needle. “Nearly 125 permanent jobs they had there were really desirable jobs.”

“For Morrow County, this plant was at one point our biggest taxpayer by a really big margin,” Russell added before watching the demolition from the viewing area. He said the factory shutdown has had limited economic impacts even though the rural county has recently diversified its economy with Amazon data centers and a number of renewable energy projects.

More than a decade ago, PGE executives decided to close the Boardman plant by 2020 when the economic and environmental outlook for coal power darkened. The announcement helped settle a Clean Air Act lawsuit brought by green groups, as well as avoid PGE having to make costly emissions control upgrades in the future.

The shutdown eliminated about two million tons of greenhouse gas emissions that used to come from the plant each year. (This amount of carbon dioxide is equivalent to annual pollution from about 431,000 average passenger cars in use, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Calculation.) Scenic gorge area.

In the short term, PGE replaced Boardman’s electricity with a broad mix of other resources, partly purchased under contract from other generators.. Renewables will play a prominent role going forward, Jenkins said, including a company-owned 50-megawatt solar farm proposed for the coal plant site that could reuse existing transmission connections. He also praised the reliability and flexibility of PGE’s large natural gas power plant in Boardman, Carty Generating Station, which opened in 2016 across the street from the former coal plant.

The shift from old to new is also reflected in the vicinity of the Wheatridge wind, solar and battery storage complex, which came fully online in Morrow County earlier this year.

PGE spokesmen said some Boardman coal plant workers retired when the plant was decommissioned, many were transferred to other positions at the company and some are on demolition, leaving only a very few laid off.

Five years ago, some community members in eastern Oregon hoped to keep the large power plant running with an alternative fuel source. One option tested was to run the boiler on wood chips or charcoal-like pellets made from diluted wood debris from northwest forests to reduce the risk of wildfires. This had the potential to provide a double benefit: making forest restoration more economically viable by turning mitigation into a valuable commodity and extending the life of the power plant and its rural functions with a sustainable fuel source.

PGE briefly experimented with woody biomass and found that it was possible, but eventually rejected the option to convert the fuel amid doubts about whether the fuel would become competitive with other renewable resources.

Only one coal plant remains in the northwest

The demolition of Boardman’s coal plant left a coal-fired power plant operating in the northwest, the Trans Alta coal plant in Centralia, Washington. But its days are numbered, too, for the same reasons that the Boardman factory closed. Under pressure to cut emissions, TransAlta has struck a deal with the governor of Washington and the state legislature to retire one of its two plant units in 2020 and completely stop burning coal by the end of 2025.

Even with the Boardman coal plant disappearing and TransAlta on its way out, there is a noticeable amount of electricity generated from coal still flowing through transmission wires to homes and businesses in the Northwest. The latest numbers for the statewide mix of power generation resources published by the Oregon Department of Energy showed that coal accounted for 26% of the electricity on the state’s grid in 2020, behind hydro at 40% and ahead of natural gas (21.5%) and wind (7%) .

Washington state relies on hydroelectric generation more than its neighbors (the share of hydropower is about 55%), but the total resource mix of its electric utilities still includes about 10% of coal as of 2020, according to an analysis by the Washington Department of Commerce. Coal ranked third after natural gas (13%), ahead of wind (5%) and nuclear (4%).

Besides juice from a coal plant in Centralia, coal power on the grid in the Northwest today comes primarily from large power plants near coal mines in Wyoming, Montana, and Utah. Electricity buyers are mainly investor-owned utilities in the area – PGE, Avista, Idaho Power, Pacific Power and Puget Sound Energy. Public utilities get first points from wholesale hydropower and nuclear power distributed by the Bonneville Energy Department.

Between 2016 and 2021, the Oregon legislature passed some of the most aggressive clean energy laws in the country. Lawmakers for the first time have set a 2030 deadline to completely take coal-fired electricity off the grid in the state. A follow-up action last year required that the state’s largest utilities, notably PGE and Pacific Power, reach zero emissions for all electricity generation by 2040.

In Washington state, utilities must give up all electricity generated from coal by the end of 2025 under clean energy rules passed by the legislature in 2019.

Some environmental concerns, including the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, are pressing Northwest utilities and government regulators to accelerate coal phase-out in order to reach self-imposed climate goals and protect public health.

A PGE spokesperson said the facility expects to complete the complete demolition and decommissioning of the Boardman coal plant by spring 2023. Antiquities.

Watch the crowd’s reaction to the chimney demolition.

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