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Oregon’s Clean Energy Data Center Bill Dies in Committee

The proposal aimed to hold companies with large data centers and cryptocurrency mining operations accountable to meeting clean energy deadlines. Critics – including Amazon – said the bill did not provide a clear path forward.

(TNS) — An effort to compel Oregon data centers to meet the state’s climate goals died in a legislative committee Monday, a victory for big tech companies and for small-town officials who felt House Bill 2816 could undermine one of their fastest-growing industries.

“This bill is dead,” said co-sponsor Rep. Pam Marsh, D- Ashland, who pulled the bill from the House Committee on Climate, Energy and Environment Monday. “There had been sufficient confusion planted in the community about what it might do.”

The bill would have required newly built Oregon data centers and big cryptocurrency miners to power their facilities with 80% clean energy by 2030, and 100% by 2040. The bill didn’t apply to other industries, but officials and lawmakers from some rural communities said they felt it targeted their economies.

Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google have spent billions of dollars building data centers in central and eastern Oregon. Those regions are generally exempt from climate regulations lawmakers approved two years ago because they’re served by consumer-owned utilities that primarily use federal hydropower, which doesn’t contribute to climate change.

But data centers can use as much electricity as a small town. And in Morrow and Umatilla counties, Amazon’s rapid growth has exhausted the small communities’ allocation of hydroelectricity. That has contributed to a huge spike in the region’s carbon footprint.

Amazon, which lobbied against the Oregon bill, says it’s committed to moving to “net-zero carbon emissions” by 2040. But the company said HB 2816 didn’t provide a path to get there.

“The bill does not address the build-out of electric infrastructure that is needed to bring more clean energy to the grid,” Amazon said in a statement. The company said new renewable energy projects require grid upgrades that face obstacles in permitting and interconnections, and Amazon said it wants to work with Oregon leaders to enable renewable energy development in the state.

“Accelerating energy infrastructure permitting and interconnections for renewables like solar and wind would have a greater impact on reducing emissions, bringing more clean energy to the grid, and helping achieve our goal of accessing more clean energy in Oregon,” Amazon said.

On Tuesday, Amazon announced an agreement to buy renewable energy through the Umatilla Electric Cooperative, which serves its data centers near the eastern Oregon cities of Boardman and Hermiston. Amazon said its Oregon data centers are now powered with 95% renewable energy, but it wasn’t immediately clear how the company was calculating its climate impacts in eastern Oregon.

Previously, Amazon had filed plans to shift three of its data centers near Boardman, in Morrow County, to fuel cells powered by natural gas, a non-renewable fossil fuel, routed from a controversial pipeline from British Columbia.

State regulators say the fuel cells have a carbon footprint comparable to gas-fired generators. The fuel cells could someday be converted to hydrogen, which would substantially reduce their carbon impact, though hydrogen production is currently expensive and power-intensive.

A coalition of environmental advocates rallied in support of HB 2816 last month but encountered fierce resistance from public officials and industry groups. Marsh said she intends to talk to the bill’s opponents after the current session about whether there’s a path that moves data centers toward clean power without undercutting the industry.

But she said it’s too soon to know whether she’ll bring a version of the bill back for the short legislative session that begins early next year.

“We need to regroup,” Marsh said. “Things quite often don’t get through the Legislature on first go. Most of the time they don’t. So, we started the conversation.”

Update: This article has been updated with additional commentary from Amazon and the company’s announcement of an Oregon renewable energy purchase.

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