a demolition contractor on Thursday Trapped the giant smokestack And the 19-story boiler building at Portland General Electric’s closed coal-fired power plant near Boardman brings a symbolic close to the era of coal-fired power generation in Oregon. Imported electricity generated from coal still flows through transmission wires in the Pacific Northwest, but that too is soon running out.
Watch the video of the demolition:
Strategically placed explosives toppled a 656-foot-high pile such that a lumberjack could topple a tree and collapse an adjacent boiler building into a pile of concrete pieces and twisted steel. Within seconds, a huge cloud of dust partially covered the decomposed coal plant. A small crowd of onlookers invited by PGE, which included former plant workers ooh and aahed, but mostly avoided clapping or cheering as the moment was filled with sadness or sadness for many.
“Very emotional for me and very emotional for so many people I’ve worked with for many years,” said Brad Jenkins, Vice President of PGE Utility Operations, Boardman’s former plant manager.
“The coal plant has been just one workbench of the fleet for 40 years,” Jenkins said. “But if you look at the landscape here, we have a lot of clean, renewable resources coming in. We’re transitioning and that’s a part of that transition.”
PGE livestreamed the controlled demolition on social media but did not enable comments. Before the explosion, a flurry of people mourned the coal plant’s demise on the utility’s Facebook page. A recurrent theme among those commentators was that the Northwest needed reliable, baseload power such as what Boardman provided to balance intermittent renewable energy sources.
Jenkins said the region’s fleet of natural gas power plants will provide grid stability for years to come unless they are phased out and replaced with developing, zero-emissions technologies.
A long legacy in a cloud of smoke and dust in mid-Columbia
The Boardman Coal Plant operated from 1980 until its early retirement in 2020. It is located about 11 miles southwest of Boardman in Morro County—where the closest habitats are—and about an hour’s drive upstream from the eastern end of the Columbia River Gorge. The plant’s 585-MW generation capacity was for a long time the largest power source for Oregon’s largest utility. It was also the state’s biggest source of climate-warming pollution. There are no coal-fired power plants now operating within the state of Oregon.
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” said Morrow County Commissioner Don Russell, who befriended many coal plant workers and had a view from his home of the historic Stack, which was taller than Seattle’s Space Needle. “There are about 125 permanent jobs. What they had were really prestigious jobs.”
“For Morrow County, at one time this plant was our biggest taxpayer by a really big margin,” Russell added before watching the demolition from the field of view. He said the plant closures have had limited economic impact as rural counties have recently diversified their economy with Amazon data centers and several renewable energy projects.
PGE officials decided to close the Boardman plant more than a decade ago by 2020, when the economic and environmental outlook for coal power deepened. The announcement helped settle a Clean Air Act lawsuit brought by green groups, as well as PGE refraining from making costly emissions control upgrades down the road.
The shutdown eliminated about 2 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions that were coming from the plant each year. (According to the EPA’s greenhouse gas calculator, the amount of carbon dioxide equates to annual pollution from about 431,000 passenger cars in average use.) The shutdown also eliminated mercury and sulfur dioxide emissions, which cause haze and smog in the surrounding area. were responsible for air pollution. Gorge scenic area.
In the short term, PGE replaced electricity from Boardman with a wider mix of other resources, partly purchased on contract from other generators., Jenkins said renewable energy will play a major role going forward, potentially including a proposed company-owned 50 MW solar farm for a coal plant site that could reuse existing transmission connections. He also praised the reliability and flexibility of PGE’s large natural gas-fired power plant at the Boardman, Carty Generating Station, which opened in 2016 across the street from the former coal plant.
The transition from old to new is also reflected in the immediate area of PGE’s Wheatridge Wind, Solar and Storage Battery Complex, which went fully online earlier this year in central Morrow County.
PGE spokesmen said that some employees of the Boardman Coal Plant had retired when the plant was decommissioned, many were transferred to other roles in the company and some are working on the demolition, far fewer. has been abandoned.
Five years ago, some community members in eastern Oregon hoped to keep a large power plant running with an alternative fuel source. One option that was tested was running boilers on pellets such as wood chips or charcoal, which were made from thin wood debris from Northwest forests, to reduce the risk of wildfires. This had the potential to provide a dual benefit: making forest restoration more economically viable by turning thinness into a valuable commodity and extending the life of the power plant and its rural jobs with a sustainable fuel source.
PGE experimented briefly with wood biomass and found it to be viable, but eventually rejected the fuel conversion option amid doubts whether the fuel would be competitive with other renewable resources.
There is only one coal plant left in the North West.
The demolition of the Boardman Coal Plant leaves the TransAlta Coal Plant in Centralia, Washington, a coal-fired power station operating to the northwest. But its days are also numbered, for the same reasons the Boardman plant closed. Under pressure to cut emissions, TransAlta struck a deal with Washington’s governor and the state legislature to retire one of the plant’s two units in 2020 and completely stop burning coal by the end of 2025.
Even with the departure of the Boardman Coal Plant and en route to TransAlta, a notable amount of coal-generated electricity is still coming to Northwest homes and businesses via transmission wires. The most recent data for statewide electricity generation resource mix posted by the Oregon Department of Energy showed that coal accounted for 26% of electricity on the state grid in 2020, behind hydro at 40% and ahead of natural gas (21.5%) and wind. Is. (7%).
Washington state relies more on hydroelectricity generation than its neighbors (hydro accounts for about 55%), but the overall resource mix of its electric utilities will still consist of about 10% from coal as of 2020, according to a report by the Washington Department of Commerce. According to the analysis. Coal was in third place, just behind natural gas (13%) and ahead of wind (5%) and nuclear (4%).
In addition to the juices from the Centralia coal plant, coal power on the grid in the Northwest today mainly comes from large power plants near coal mines in Wyoming, Montana and Utah. Electricity buyers are primarily investor-owned utilities in the area — PGE, Avista, Idaho Power, Pacific Power and Puget Sound Energy. Public utilities get first-hand information on bulk hydropower and nuclear power distributed by the Bonneville Power Administration.
Between 2016 and 2021, the Oregon Legislature passed some of the most aggressive clean energy laws in the country. Lawmakers previously set a deadline of 2030 for the state to completely switch coal-fired power off the grid. A follow-up measure last year required the state’s largest utilities, particularly PGE and Pacific Power, to reach zero emissions for all electricity generation by 2040.
In Washington state, utilities must give up all coal-generated electricity by the end of 2025 under clean energy rules passed by the Legislature in 2019.
Some environmental interests, including the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, are pressing Northwest utilities and state regulators to accelerate the phase-out of coal in order to reach self-imposed climate goals and protect public health.
A PGE spokesman said the utility expects the Bordman coal plant to be completely dismantled and fully completed by the spring of 2023. The explosive removal of the tall smokestack on Thursday was done by contractor Brandenburg, a big name in the specialized world of industrial blowing. remain
Watch the crowd’s reaction to the smoke stack’s demolition.