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Groups Ask for WA Transition from "Coal to Clean Energy"

PHOTO: The Washington Legislature is considering ways to help regional utilities end their use of power from the Colstrip Generating Station in Montana. Environmental groups want a timeline for the transition and protections for ratepayers. Photo copyright Paul K. Anderson; used with his permission.
PHOTO: The Washington Legislature is considering ways to help regional utilities end their use of power from the Colstrip Generating Station in Montana. Environmental groups want a timeline for the transition and protections for ratepayers. Photo copyright Paul K. Anderson; used with his permission.
March 26, 2015

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Environmental advocates from across the state made their way to Olympia on Wednesday to underscore what they say is the need to make more definite plans for Washington utilities to stop using coal power generated out-of-state.

A bill that passed in the Washington Senate (SB 5874) keeps alive the idea of studying at least a partial closure of the Colstrip Generating Station in Montana, which is co-owned by several Washington utilities. But no timeline is included.

Seth Ballhorn, organizer with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, says more action is needed.

"We want a bill that establishes a process to retire the plant in the near future, not decades from now," says Ballhorn. "Climate disruption already hurts our shellfish industry; it puts our forests at increased risk of fire, and jeopardizes our snowpack and water supply."

He adds that even though the coal plant is out-of-state, there's a lot state lawmakers and the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission can do to ensure that ratepayers won't be stuck with the costs of updating the facility.

The activists told legislators they want a deadline for ending the state's use of coal power, with utility customer protections built in.

Rachel Shimshak, executive director of Renewable Northwest, says they also want assurances that the replacement power will be clean and locally produced.

"And we're also interested in a mix of resources that are much cleaner, so we can help stabilize rates for customers over the long term, avoid the risks of future coal regulation, and help keep the air clean," she says.

At least one utility, Avista, has said the Colstrip plant is the largest industrial facility in Montana and research indicates it could be a reliable source of electricity for another 20 years. But the aging plant has already faced lawsuits for air and water pollution from emissions and coal-ash waste.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA