July 8, 2021

A clean and just electricity system is within reach: How Oregon thrives when frontline communities lead

Oregon is on the path to a clean and just electricity system thanks to the leadership, passion, and work of the Oregon Clean Energy Opportunity Coalition (OCEO), and especially its steering committee of frontline-community organizations. OCEO’s frontline leadership was essential to getting 100% Clean Energy for All (HB 2021) across the finish line on one of the hottest days in Oregon’s history. 

HB 2021 sets clean electricity standards for Oregon’s two largest electric utilities and centers justice with requirements like community benefits, labor standards, and tribal consultation. Multnomah County is honored to have joined OCEO as a coalition member. We are also honored to have supported and amplified the work by OCEO's frontline leaders to get us closer to the just and clean energy future that our community urgently needs. 

A historic coalition led by frontline communities

Drawing of a house with solar panels being installed on the roof, the house is held in a persons hands, children cheering in the foreground, and flowers blooming from a window in the house.
Artwork from the OCEO campaign, by Erica Alexia @EricAlexia.
HB 2021 is the result of a process as historic as the policy itself. “The process that led to HB 2021 represents a transition to a better, more just, and more strategic way to craft energy and climate policy in Oregon by centering the voices of those most impacted by climate change,” said Silvia Tanner, Senior Energy Policy and Legal Analyst for Multnomah County Office of Sustainability. 

Environmental-justice and rural-community organizations formed the OCEO steering committee that designed, implemented, and led on this historic process, including organizations active in Multnomah County, like the Coalition of Communities of Color, Verde, Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO), OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, Causa Oregon, the Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA), and the Oregon Just Transition Alliance

In addition to bringing to the table their expertise and experience with the communities they serve, these frontline-community organizations worked directly with communities to learn what Oregonians most at risk from climate change needed to see in Oregon’s transition to clean energy. They then centered those learnings in the policy development process. As Nikita Daryanani, Climate & Energy Policy Manager at the Coalition of Communities of Color put it, “100% Clean Energy for All is an exciting, ambitious, and achievable policy grounded in justice for communities who have been historically harmed the most by our energy systems."

The OCEO steering committee also brought together, and collaborated with, an even broader coalition that included key legislators, labor, local governments like Multnomah County, utilities, Oregon’s ratepayer advocate, and environmental advocates. All of the partners in that broader coalition contributed to developing and getting HB 2021 across the finish line. Their work was successful thanks to OCEO’s frontline-community organizations that both set the tone for inclusion and collaboration, and kept conversations moving when collaboration appeared to be stalling. HB 2021 was also successful thanks to legislators committed to environmental justice, including Representative Khanh Pham who represents part of our Multnomah County community. With this process, legislators, Multnomah County, and the other coalition partners could see that centering frontline communities leads to stronger and more successful energy and climate policy.

A historic policy that centers the needs of vulnerable communities 

The result of the OCEO frontline partners’ efforts to center community and to collaborate with that broader coalition is a bill that will clean Oregon’s electricity while delivering on priorities that Oregon’s historically marginalized communities identified. Specifically, under HB 2021:

  • Pacific Power and Portland General Electric must serve their customers with 100% emissions-free electricity by 2040, with interim targets and incentives for early compliance 

  • Community benefits must be prioritized and the State must consult with federally recognized tribes on issues like energy facility siting where impacts to cultural resources are a risk 

  • Utilities will have Community Benefit and Impacts Advisory Groups with environmental-justice and low-income communities representation 

  • Local governments can create programs to meet local clean energy goals

  • There will be no siting of fossil fuel power plants in Oregon. 

  • For all new projects over 10 megawatts in size, clean energy developers have to provide apprenticeships and fair wages, and to establish and execute plans for outreach, recruitment, and retention of communities historically underrepresented in the clean energy economy.

  • Community renewable energy grants will be available for projects that provide direct benefits to communities and promote disaster resiliency or help integrate renewables.

A suite of policies that advance community well-being

HB 2021 was part of a holistic legislative package with three bills that OCEO embraced and that collectively addresses energy, environmental justice, and community wellbeing. The Oregon Legislature passed all three bills. Energy Affordability (HB 2475) will result in decreased utility costs for families struggling with energy insecurity, and enable additional engagement by environmental-justice and low-income communities in Public Utility Commission proceedings. Healthy Homes (HB 2842) will support home upgrades to help improve the health of families across Oregon while driving down energy usage, utility bills, and exposure to pollution or smoke. By advancing this comprehensive package, the OCEO frontline leadership helped Oregon take a major step in the direction of a transition to clean energy that centers justice and vulnerable communities. 

“The last two years have taught us so much,” said Tanner. “We have learned about our vulnerabilities and about the value of caring for one another and of cultivating more resilient, equitable, and just communities. The successes of the OCEO coalition have also underlined another important lesson: following the leadership of impacted communities is not only the right thing to do, it is the strategic and smart thing to do if we truly want to address the climate crisis.”