Coal-fired Power In Oregon Has Come To An End With The Demolition Of The Boardman Chimney

On Thursday, a demolition company brought the era of coal-fired power generation in Oregon to a symbolic end by pulling down the 19-story boiler building and tall smokestack at Portland General Electric’s closed coal-fired power plant near Boardman. Transmission networks in the Pacific Northwest still carry imported power produced with coal, but it is also likely to come to an end shortly.

Strategically placed explosives brought down the nearby boiler building, which was made of twisted steel and concrete pieces and toppled the 656-foot-tall stack. The partially dismantled coal plant was quickly engulfed in a massive cloud of dust.

The PGE invited a small group of observers, including former plant workers, who oohed and aahed but mainly held back from applauding or clapping as the occasion was laced with loss or melancholy for many.

The former plant manager at Boardman and PGE vice president of utility operations Brad Jenkins described the situation as “extremely emotional for me and very emotional for a lot of the individuals that I worked with for a number of years.”

The coal plant has served as the fleet’s workhorse for 40 years, according to Jenkins. However, if you take a glance at the local environment, you’ll notice that there are several clean, renewable resources available. This is simply a small portion of the shift that we’re going through.

The controlled demolition was live-streamed on social media by PGE, but comments were disabled. A few users on the utility’s Facebook page lamented the closure of the coal plant before the explosion. These commenters frequently emphasized the necessity for dependable baseload electricity, like what Boardman offered, in the Northwest in order to balance intermittent renewable energy sources.

According to Jenkins, the region’s fleet of natural gas-fired power plants will keep the system stable over the next years as emerging zero-emissions technologies take their place.

You can watch the Oregon’s last coal-plant demolistion youtube video by clicking on it.

A long legacy in Mid-Columbia up in a cloud of smoke and dust

From 1980 until its early retirement in 2020, the Boardman coal plant was in operation. It is situated in Morrow County, about 11 miles southwest of Boardman, the nearest town, and about an hour’s drive upriver from the east end of the Columbia River Gorge. For a considerable amount of time, Oregon’s main utility’s sole significant power source was the plant’s 585-megawatt producing capacity. It was also the main contributor to the state’s pollution that contributes to global warming. In Oregon, there are currently no coal-fired power stations in operation.

The famous stack, which was taller than Seattle’s Space Needle, was visible from Morrow County Commissioner Don Russell’s home, who became friends with many of the coal plant employees and described the situation as “kind of bittersweet.” The approximately 125 permanent positions that they had available there were much sought after.

Before observing the destruction from the observation area, Russell remarked, “For Morrow County, at one time this factory was our largest taxpayer by a fairly wide margin. The rural county’s economy has recently been diversified by Amazon data centers and a variety of renewable energy projects, he said, so the plant shutdown had a very minor economic impact.

When the economic and environmental prospects for coal electricity grew gloomier, PGE management decided more than ten years ago to close the Boardman facility by 2020. The revelation also saved PGE from having to later invest in expensive pollution control measures, which helped resolve a Clean Air Act lawsuit launched by environmental organizations.

2 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year from the facility were reduced by its shutdown. (The EPA’s greenhouse gas calculation estimates that quantity of carbon dioxide to be equivalent to the annual pollution produced by around 431,000 passenger automobiles driven on average.) The closure also put a halt to the emissions of mercury and sulfur dioxide that were to blame for the haze and air pollution in the neighborhood and the Gorge beautiful region.

Short-term replacement of the power from Boardman by PGE included a wide range of different resources, some of which were contracted out to other producers.

Jenkins predicted that in the future, renewable energy sources will be heavily utilized, maybe even a company-owned 50 MW solar farm that was proposed for the location of the coal plant and could make use of the current transmission links. Additionally, he commended the Carty Generating Station, a sizable natural gas-fired power plant owned by PGE that debuted in 2016 and is located next to the former coal plant in Boardman. He lauded the facility’s dependability and adaptability.

Coal-fired Power In Oregon Has Come To An End
Coal-fired Power In Oregon Has Come To An End

The PGE Wheatridge wind, solar, and storage battery complex, which completely went online in central Morrow County early this year, is another location where the old and modern coexist.

Few employees of the Boardman coal plant were laid off, according to PGE spokesmen, who noted that many Boardman coal plant employees transferred to other positions within the firm, others are working on the deconstruction, and some retired when the plant was decommissioned.

About five years ago, several locals in Eastern Oregon wanted to use an alternate fuel source to keep the massive power plant functioning. Running the boiler on pellets or chips created from woody waste that had been removed from Northwest forests to lessen the danger of wildfires was one alternative that was investigated.

The thinnings might have been turned into a valuable product, increasing the economic viability of forest restoration, and a sustainable fuel supply could have extended the life of the power plant and its associated rural jobs.

PGE tested the feasibility of using woody biomass for a limited period of time, but ultimately decided against it because it was unsure if the fuel would be cost-competitive with other renewable resources.

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