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PSE Feels Heat from Olympia about Coal Power

PHOTO: Advocates for clean energy continued their push this week to convince Puget Sound Energy to transition from using power from the Colstrip Generating Station in Montana to more locally-generated wind and solar power, as well as energy efficiency. Photo courtesy of Sierra Club.
PHOTO: Advocates for clean energy continued their push this week to convince Puget Sound Energy to transition from using power from the Colstrip Generating Station in Montana to more locally-generated wind and solar power, as well as energy efficiency. Photo courtesy of Sierra Club.
October 9, 2014

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Puget Sound Energy (PSE) is catching some heat from the 30 percent of their electrical power that comes from burning Montana coal.

On Wednesday in Olympia, the utility company was presented with more than 10,000 petitions asking it step up the use of clean energy and energy efficiency.

Bob Guenther, government affairs representative for IBEW Local 77, says the electricians' union represents many coal plant workers. He doesn't want to see them out of jobs, and is convinced the utility can craft a transition plan to benefit workers in Washington and Montana, as well as the environment.

"This is not a threat against Puget Sound Energy," says Guenther. "From my perspective, it is saying, 'Wake up!' We can develop new and creative ways to generate electricity that will pay good wages and keep the communities whole."

Guenther says the union was involved in the transition plan for closing Washington's only coal-fired plant in Centralia.

The Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign also presented PSE with a report card summing up its performance. It said the company needs to show "more effort and commitment" to clean energy.

The utility got good grades for using some wind and solar power and its energy efficiency programs, but the overall grade was "incomplete" - for the air and water pollution from the Colstrip plant in Montana. Seth Ballhorn, Sierra Club Beyond Coal campaign organizer, says PSE's dragging its feet on the future of Colstrip has ripple effects in Washington.

"Cities throughout the region are doing everything they can to confront climate change," he says. "But it's challenging when they get 30 percent of their power from coal. They're doing what they can to encourage their utility to be part of the solution."

Ballhorn says the state Utilities and Transportation Commission asked Puget Sound Energy in February for a more thorough analysis of the costs associated with Colstrip, and whether the company will upgrade the aging plant or retire it. According to Ballhorn, the commission's request was optional and, to date, PSE hasn't responded.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA