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Clean Energy Advocates: Washington Transition from Coal "Too Slow"

PHOTO: The Colstrip Generating Station in Montana has been under regional scrutiny for years for air and water pollution. Three Washington utilities use some of its power, and have proposed legislation to retire the plant. Photo courtesy Montana Environmental Information Center.
PHOTO: The Colstrip Generating Station in Montana has been under regional scrutiny for years for air and water pollution. Three Washington utilities use some of its power, and have proposed legislation to retire the plant. Photo courtesy Montana Environmental Information Center.
February 10, 2015

OLYMPIA, Wash. - A coal-fired power plant in Montana is at the heart of legislation getting its first committee hearings this week in Olympia.

The Colstrip Generating Station provides some electricity for three Washington utilities, which are proposing a plan to retire the plant. Colstrip already is the subject of lawsuits for air pollution and the coal ash waste around its facility.

Bill Arthur, deputy director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, says the new legislation is complex and doesn't clearly address who will pay for taking the plant off-line or cleaning up the site.

"A lot of it is just really intended to give the utilities a free hand on how they move forward with the coal-retirement process," he says. "Then to guarantee that any of the costs ultimately end up being paid for by the ratepayer."

Arthur says one of his group's concerns is that language in the bill could tie the hands of the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, which oversees these types of transitions and could ensure that costs are split between ratepayers and utility shareholders.

The utilities that are part-owners of Colstrip include Avista, Pacific Power and Puget Sound Energy. They say it's been a reliable, low-cost energy source.

Arthur says he doesn't see a timeline in the bill for the transition, while other coal plants in the Pacific Northwest have specific shutdown dates. And he says conservation groups want assurances that the coal power would be replaced with cleaner sources.

"The carbon emission is the equivalent of half the cars in the state of Washington," he says. "That's essentially three million vehicles. It's one of the biggest, dirtiest carbon-polluting plants in the West. So, we should be talking about how we retire this plant now, not decades from now."

The first hearing on the state Senate version of the bill, SB 5874, is Wednesday in the Senate Energy Committee. The House counterpart of the bill, HB 2002, gets a first look on Thursday in the House Technology Committee. Both hearings begin at 1:30 p.m.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA