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Utility will close coal plant by 2020

PORTLAND – Portland General Electric has filed to close the only coal-fired plant in Oregon ahead of schedule to save $470 million on pollution controls.

The utility said Friday it would close the plant near Boardman by 2020 instead of 2040 because it’s cheaper than installing upgrades.

The Boardman plant supplies 15 percent of the power provided by PGE, Oregon’s largest electric utility.

But it is the largest single source of greenhouse gases in the state and creates smog and haze that hamper visibility from Mount Hood to the Columbia River Gorge to Hells Canyon.

“We absolutely think this is a huge win for the environment,” said Dave Robertson, PGE’s vice president of public policy. “We’re really taking the higher, more difficult road on this.”

But environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Friends of the Columbia Gorge, said the utility can close the plant even sooner without driving up rates.

“PGE has operated that plant, we believe, outside the law for 30 years, and forced these haze- and smog-causing emissions,” said Michael Lang, conservation director for Friends of the Columbia Gorge. “They’re basically asking for another pass.”

Under PGE’s proposal to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, the utility would install $33 million of controls in 2011 to cut Boardman’s nitrogen oxide emissions by half. But it would not make $470 million worth of upgrades in 2014 and 2017 that would cut sulfur dioxide emissions by 80 percent and further reduce nitrogen oxide pollution.

PGE said it would buy lower-sulfur coal to reduce pollution in the meantime.