The Boardman Coal Plant could run another 30 or 40 years, according to the people who work there; instead, PGE has agreed to shut it down next year.
“We’re gonna put the thing to bed early,” said Dave Rodgers. He's an electrical engineer who spent years working at the plant, many of them as the top executive. He now manages all of the PGE thermal plants in Eastern Oregon.
He is proud of his years at the coal plant and what it accomplished.
“The question is, 'Did you do something worthwhile with your life?' And I can honestly say, 'Yeah.' I can say I provided a useful product to people that they used, that they benefited from,” Rodgers said.
Boardman stands in stark contrast to the surrounding farm fields.
The smoke stack stands 656 feet tall, roughly the height of a 60-story building.
Mountains of black coal rise from the ground. There are roughly 500,000 tons tons of it here at any given time, enough to run the coal plant and power 500,000 Portland-area homes for a month-and-a-half. When its running at full output the plant burns five-and-a-half tons of coal a minute.
Hold the coal in your hand and you'll notice it is surprisingly lightweight, like the pumice rock you might find around Mt. St. Helens.
The coal looks like firewood that burned to black but did not disintegrate, and it comes apart easily.
Three trains a week re-supply the coal pile. Each train pulls 100 cars and each car carries 120 tons of coal from the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming.
The plant only orders, and will only burn, low-sulfur coal to help reduce emissions.
Ten years ago, PGE installed $60 million worth of pollution controls to further lower pollution from Boardman.
A spokesman said the decision to mothball the plant came back in 2009 after it was clear PGE would need to spend $600 million to fully comply with emissions requirements.
Cesia Kearns fights coal plants like this on a regional basis for the Sierra Club. The Sierra Club filed the lawsuit that led to the decision to close Boardman.
She said the end of the state’s only coal plant is good for everyone.
“This plant was the largest source of climate pollution—the largest single source of climate pollution and air pollution—in Oregon. And the fact that we’re going to be moving past that, and hopefully accounting for the change that’s coming for the community, is a pretty big deal,” she said.