Portland General Electric illuminates the PNW

Kelly Dawson
February 13, 2018
10 min read
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There are plenty of reasons to fall in love with the city of Portland. Oregon’s largest city stretches out over Willamette River in a series of bridges that connect lively neighborhoods in the shadow of Mount Hood. It’s an unapologetically weird place, and yet there’s one thing that may be more reliable than its personality: its power.

For more than a century, Portland General Electric Company has illuminated the many enclaves of this Pacific Northwest destination so that its many residents could settle in a place with a fundamental source of light. In fact, its power stretches beyond Portland and into nearby areas, offering electricity to almost half of the state. Its production primarily focuses on natural gas, coal, and hydroelectric power sourced from plants and dams on the Willamette, Clackamas, and Deschutes rivers.

As the eponymous landmark and its neighboring cities continue to grow, Portland General Electric Company is keeping pace with its scale and mindset by offering its assets in more environmental and cost-effective ways. The company is prioritizing renewable energy options — including wind farms, solar, and smart grids — and advocating for the protection of wildlife that comes into contact with its resources. The hope is that Portland General Electric Company can continue to be the backbone of this dynamic city in an equally progressive way.

Keep Portland wired

Long before Portland General Electric Company was a primary utility provider in its namesake city and its surroundings, it was nascent business experiencing the beginning stages of a new locale. Forty years after Portland was founded, in 1851, it first began as Willamette Falls Electric Company by Edward Eastham and  Parker Morey. It wasn’t until 1892 that the company took its current name, which was funded by General Electric.

As is the case with most century-old companies in the business of servicing a large portion of a growing population, Portland General Electric Company’s history is full of the type of acquisitions and sales that would make any banker smile with delight. But since we’ll assume that most of our readers don’t have a Monopoly mustache to contend with, we’ll offer up the highlights. The first few years of its business was all about big purchases: Willamette Falls Electric, City-Eastside Electric Light Plant, and Union Power Company were just a few of the names bought in the early years. It moved into the midcentury with bankruptcy looming, and it wasn’t until World War II’s industry boom — which required the construction of three shipyards under the company’s control — that it started to make strides. Of course, it was purchased by Enron Corporation in 1997 (yes, that Enron), and wasn’t clear of that until 2006.

These days are much more streamlined. Portland General Electric Company has amassed a 4,000-square-mile service area and nearly two million residents under its umbrella, who live in 51 overall cities. It serves most of its namesake location west of the Willamette River and shares the eastside of the river with Pacific Power. In all, Portland General Electric Company has more than $9 billion in utility plant assets generated from seven thermal plants, seven hydroelectric plants, and two wind farms. And alongside its ownership of major transmission rights to the Pacific Intertie, known as the West Coast’s major electrical grid, this translates into more than $1 billion in retail revenues.

But enough about the company’s historical overview and current bottom lines. Let’s chat about what it’s doing to make sure that the power it generates doesn’t harm the environment.

More power to Portland

Part of what’s important about power is pretty simple: it has to work. And according to the 2016 Average Service Availability Index, Portland General Electric Company has a 99 percent service reliability rating. The company is also responsible for keeping more than two billion pounds of carbon dioxide out of the air that year, which made it the leading renewable program in the state and saved enough energy to power 32,000 additional homes. So, it’s not only working, it’s working well.

Its plants on three Oregon rivers — Willamette, Deschutes, and Clackamas — have all been engineered to protect fish survival and migration, including projects that promote healthy air and water for humans, too. And since birds think of electric wires as prime nest real estate, Portland General Electric Company works to protect them with employee training, protective tool configurations, and even separate platforms. The company tracks birds and their nesting patterns to see where they may be looking to set up shop and plans accordingly for safe outcomes. These are just a few small ways that the area’s renowned wildlife are being looked after.

But as for the bigger initiatives, Portland General Electric Company wants to deliver at least 65 percent of its energy from carbon-free resources, like wind turbines, by 2040. It plans to do so in part by harvesting the energy from its largest renewable energy wind farms in Wasco, Oregon and Dayton, Washington. Its new participation in the Western Energy Imbalance Market will also help, which automatically sends the cheapest electric resources to needed areas across six states on the West Coast and a Canadian province (Idaho will join in April 2018). The Energy Imbalance Market prioritizes renewable energy in its processes, with the goal to make power cleaner, safer, and cheaper.

Portland will always be a place to swoon over, whether it’s for its natural attributes or endless entertainment, and its commitment to reliable power can be yet another reason to add to the list. Portland General Electric Company serves its namesake locale and the surrounding areas with the type of ingenuity that mirrors its people, and its innovative projects will only continue to serve them well. That’s why its commitment to environmentalism is so appealing: it makes for a future that’s even easier to love.

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