Photo contributed by Sara Quinn
Environmentalists rallied again Monday to oppose the expansion of the natural gas-fired Carty Generating Station in Morrow County, even after Portland General Electric suspended permitting for two new units at the project site near Boardman.
The Oregon Public Utility Commission held a special hearing in downtown Portland, where 260 protesters gathered to speak out against increased natural gas at Carty — including Willa Wallace, tribal activist from Pendleton, who urged PGE to choose renewable energy over fossil fuels.
“On the subject of environmental responsibility, we stand in solidarity,” Wallace said. “Our voices are united, and we say this project is wrong.”
PGE has discussed building two new units at Carty to satisfy long-term customer demand beyond 2020, when the Boardman Coal Plant is scheduled to close. The utility says it will need to add 561 megawatts of capacity to make up the shortfall, as well as keep up with future load growth.
However, PGE recently suspended its efforts to get site certificates for Carty II and III, instead focusing on buying the additional power it needs from existing facilities. Opponents of fracked natural gas are nevertheless pushing the PUC to outright reject proposals for Carty expansion in the PGE’s latest Integrated Resource Plan.
The PUC has until the end of August to issue a final order on PGE’s resource plan, in which regulators may acknowledge all or parts of the proposal on behalf of ratepayers.
Worries over the Carty plant have also extended to the existing generation unit, which came online last year.
A coalition of groups, including Columbia Riverkeeper, is asking the PUC to investigate potential problems at Carty, including safety allegations raised by one of the project contractors and higher-than-expected emissions of smog-forming pollutants.
The first issue stems from a building code complaint filed by Newjac Inc., an Indiana-based pipe manufacturer, with the Oregon Department of Business and Consumer Services. Newjac supplied more than 17,000 feet of high-pressure pipe for the power plant, which was installed by then-general contractor Abeinsa. PGE later fired Abeinsa in late 2015 and assumed control of the remaining plant construction.
Newjac claims PGE did not obtain the necessary quality control records for the pipe prior to state inspection, creating a “potential life-safety issue for plant employees.” Lawyers for the company sent a letter in October 2016 asking PGE to pay more than $2 million for those records, or they would pursue further action.
Laurel Schmidt, a spokeswoman for PGE, said there is no basis for the complaint, and Carty is in compliance with all Oregon safety and code requirements.
“We conducted a thorough review of the Carty documents,” Schmidt said. “We knew their claim was baseless.”
Schmidt said PGE is currently conducting another audit of construction paperwork with the Department of Business and Consumer Services.
“We do not want to operate a plant that is not safe,” she said.
Dan Serres, conservation director for Columbia Riverkeeper, said the allegation raises serious questions about safety and reliability at Carty, and ought to deter the PUC from allowing expansion on the ratepayer’s dollar.
Seres also points to new information that shows Carty would emit 67 percent more pollutants than initially permitted by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
“For us, it raises very serious questions about the rollout of fracked gas at Carty,” Seres said.
Schmidt said PGE learned about higher emissions during startup and shutdown at Carty based on information provided by Mitsubishi, which manufactured the natural gas turbines. The utility has applied to modify its DEQ permit, and Schmidt said drafts should be available for public review within the next month or so.
“We’re currently in the process,” she said.
Seres said there is no guarantee DEQ will approve the permit modification, further increasing the unreliability of electricity from Carty.
“For them to ask for that level of increase ... it just again raises very serious questions.”
PGE serves roughly 848,452 retail customers around the Portland and Salem metro areas.
Contact George Plaven at email@example.com or 541-966-0825.