Oregon electricity ratepayers about to be ripped off with so-called “clean energy” bill

Oregon’s electricity ratepayers are supposed to be protected from monopolistic electric utilities by the Public Utility Commission. Yet, the most significant piece of energy legislation in decades was hatched in secret last year by those same utilities, without PUC input.

After the backroom deal became an actual legislative bill, the Oregon House of Representatives was happy to go along with the scam by approving HB 4036 in mid-February. None of the three PUC Commissioners testified on the bill.

The PUC did send a lone staff member to address the House Environment Committee, and he raised multiple concerns. He stated definitively that HB 4036 would increase costs to ratepayers and that the green power mandate would put utilities into “uncharted territory” that would risk the reliability of the regional power grid—due to the fact that wind and solar energy facilities fail to produce any output most of the time.

HB 4036 purports to be a big environmental win for the state due to a requirement that utilities cease using coal power by 2030. But Oregon only has one coal-fired power plant, at Boardman, and PGE already plans to shut it down by 2020. So this is a fake benefit. Score one for the utilities.

HB 4036 is also being marketed as a way to move Oregon to 50% reliance on “renewable power” by 2040, but that’s also a gimmick. According to the Oregon Department of Energy, the total of all electricity consumed by Oregon ratepayers from “renewable energy” sources is 6.2% of total consumption. Yet current law requires utilities to get 15%, so we already have a problem.

The gap between the reality of 6.2% and the fantasy of 15% is made up with so-called “Renewable Energy Certificates” (RECs), which don’t provide any actual electricity. RECs are just double-payments made to wind farms and other green energy producers so that the REC purchasers can pretend that they bought the actual electricity (they didn’t).

In financial terms, RECs are to power production what Bernie Madoff was to Wall Street. And just as the SEC put its stamp of approval on Madoff for years while he ran his Ponzi scheme, state and federal regulators have fully endorsed the use of RECs to allow utilities to pretend that they are using actual green electrons.

HB 4036 is specifically designed to make electricity more expensive and less reliable. That’s why there are sections in the bill allowing the PUC to temporarily stop compliance with the law under any of three conditions: if the reliability of the grid is threatened by the randomly-failing wind farms; if electricity rates rise too fast; or if the mandates for green power production (reaching 50% by 2040) can’t be met.

This is immoral. We should be enacting laws designed to make the grid more reliable and at less cost.

Proponents claim that we have to pass this bill; otherwise, even more onerous measures will be placed on the ballot in November.

So what’s the problem? Let the ballot measures go forward. I have full confidence that Oregon voters would never be dumb enough to vote to increase their rates by billions of dollars while receiving no environmental benefits.

When HB 4036 is scheduled for hearings in the Senate, legislators should insist that members of the Oregon PUC testify. The PUC is the official ratepayer watchdog; the muzzle needs to be taken off.


John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. This article originally appeared in The Oregonian on February 18, 2016.

 

Is Oregon Getting More Business Unfriendly?

Oregon is known as a small business state. Few large corporations are headquartered here, and current policy debates in the legislature and measures headed for the November ballot threaten to make our state even less friendly to business than it already is.

Two recent publications document how bad the outlook for Oregon’s economy is now. The Eighth Annual Rich States, Poor States report from the American Legislative Exchange Council calculates every state’s Economic Outlook based on fifteen public policies under state control such as personal and business tax levels, minimum wage rates, and Right to Work status. On this scale, Oregon has slipped from 35th in 2008 to 45th today.

The Small Business Policy Index for 2016, published by the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council finds that “Oregon offers the eighth worst policy climate for entrepreneurship and small business growth among the 50 states.” It comes to this conclusion based in part because “Oregon imposes the second highest personal income and capital gains taxes, high unemployment taxes, a state death tax, and a high state minimum wage. Oregon also has a weighty energy regulatory burden.”

In light of such findings, should certain state legislators, union leaders, and political activists be promoting a massive increase in Oregon’s minimum wage rate and a drastic increase in corporate taxes? Of course not. But don’t expect economic reality to always win the day. If it could, Oregon’s economic outlook would be a lot better than it is.


Steve Buckstein is Founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

Oregon’s Minimum Wage Law Perverts Compassion into Coercion

Picture two Oregon workers. One, a highly skilled and educated woman named Kate, earns well over $40 per hour based on a 40-hour work week. The other—a younger, less skilled, and less educated woman also named Kate—has a job that pays her Oregon’s minimum wage rate of $9.25 per hour.

The first Kate happens to be the Governor of Oregon. She, along with some of her colleagues in the legislature and activists on the campaign trail, believe that the second Kate should be paid as much as $15.00 per hour by law, depending on where she lives.

Wanting our second Kate to earn more is commendable; but forcing Kate’s employer to pay her more than he or she can afford, or more than Kate may be worth to their business, is not commendable.

Some politicians may feel good by “giving” more money to the Kates of Oregon, but how should they feel for “taking” that money from someone else?

I join many policy analysts, economists, and business owners in pointing out the negative effects of raising Oregon’s minimum wage. Younger, less educated and lower-skilled workers may lose their jobs, or not gain jobs in the first place, if the law prices them out of the labor market. Some employers will be forced to hire fewer workers, let some workers go, and/or raise their prices to all the Kates of Oregon who will blame them, not the politicians, for their suddenly higher cost of living.

But, the practical effects of raising the minimum wage, good or bad, should not cause us to forget the moral aspects of a state policy that dictates what one adult is required to pay another. Voluntary transactions between workers and employers are moral; imposing wage floors from Salem or any other layer of government is not.

I have no illusions that Oregon’s Governor, legislature, and activists will now see the light and abandon their plans to impose yet another burden on employers while helping some workers at the expense of others. I simply want it on the record that I agree with the author who wrote:

“The minimum wage is the modern perversion of compassion into coercion: I believe there is a moral imperative for you to earn more, so I force someone else to pay more. I feel moral while sticking someone else with the bill.”*

So, rather than raise Oregon’s minimum wage rate, the legislature should do the moral thing and end the policy altogether. Then we can all work together with Oregon Governor Kate Brown to find better, moral ways to help all the other Kates of Oregon earn more money without perverting our compassion into coercion.

* Doug Bandow, Cato Institute, January 14, 2014, The Minimum Wage: Immoral and Inefficient.


Steve Buckstein is Founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

 

Will Oregon Price the Least-Skilled out of the Workforce…Too Slowly?

As Oregon’s February legislative session approaches, Governor Kate Brown wants to head off a contentious minimum wage ballot measure that would raise Oregon’s rate up to $15 per hour over three years. But, her plan seems to upset all sides.

She has determined that the Portland area minimum wage should be exactly $15.52 by 2022. She has also figured out that the rest of the state should impose a $13.50 minimum by 2022. “That is entirely too long” to wait, according to activists behind the ballot measure.

Solid research concludes raising the minimum wage at all is not an effective way to alleviate poverty. It is, however, an effective way to pander to voters who either don’t read the economic literature, don’t believe it, or don’t care.

Oregon already has one of the highest minimum wage rates in the country at $9.25 per hour. But, with some cities and states determined to raise their rates to $15 soon, our Governor’s $15.52 Portland area proposal over six years may not be enough to keep us at the forefront of pricing the least-skilled people out of the workforce altogether.

Perhaps she should go for a $30 minimum wage rate by 2030. Or a $40 rate by 2040. Or…well, you get the idea.

Steve Buckstein is Founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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