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Sunday, March 3, 2024
March 3, 2024

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Local View: Clark Public Utilities can do more to aid climate


We’re glad to see The Columbian taking a more active interest in our public electric utility and regional energy strategy (“In Our View: Power plant upgrades serve people, planet,” Nov. 13, 2022.)

Clark Public Utilities is enormously important to our county, our economy, and our livability. We hope this media coverage continues and helps spark a broader communitywide discussion.

CPU’s hardworking employees do an excellent job with customer service and maintaining a reliable electric system. But success in some areas can breed complacency and insularity in others. Unfortunately, Clark Public Utilities is behind when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting Clark County from unnecessary local pollution. Our climate and our lungs can’t afford business as usual any longer.

Although CPU has preferential access to cheap and reliable hydropower from the Bonneville Power Administration, it is among the top polluters in Washington.

The gas-powered River Road Generating Plant is our county’s largest source of nitrogen oxide and fine particle matter.

Clark Public Utilities can and should immediately begin reducing reliance on dirty power from the River Road Generating Plant. Simply complying with state law is not “pragmatic,” but what is expected of a public agency.

We’d like to see most of our county’s needs covered by new and existing renewables, with the generating plant kept in reserve. Other than the purchase of the Box Canyon Dam output, we know of no effort to secure additional utility-scale renewable energy.

Clark Public Utilities doesn’t need to passively wait for others to develop new renewables. It can start in Clark County with mid-sized solar projects of its own.

We suggest building a 1-megawatt solar project next year in Clark County, and then gradually scaling up every year.

We’d also like to see Clark Public Utilities take advantage of state incentives for community solar projects, expanding and multiplying the success of its very popular project that went online in 2015.

Building local projects will create steady work and develop a competitive workforce that learns by doing, innovates, and brings down prices. Local renewables and other distributed energy resources avoid transmission costs while increasing community resilience.

Ratepayers want the greenhouse gases and health impacts of the River Road Generating Plant to be reduced as much as possible, as soon as possible, with abundant, reliable and affordable clean energy replacements in place before the plant is shut down.

We’d like to see Clark Public Utilities take more leadership when it comes to reducing emissions and protecting the health of our community.

Cathryn Chudy submitted this op-ed on behalf of the Alliance for Community Engagement, a coalition of organizations advocating for strong, equitable local climate policy.