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Coal Power Prominent in Avista 20-Year Plan

Spokane-area residents pack an Oct. 27 meeting about Avista's continued use of power generated from coal. Courtesy: Sierra Club
Spokane-area residents pack an Oct. 27 meeting about Avista's continued use of power generated from coal. Courtesy: Sierra Club
November 19, 2015

SPOKANE, Wash. – Avista, the electric utility that serves much of eastern Washington, is planning its next 20 years of power output – and some customers aren't happy that part of it is coal power.

The public comment period ends Friday evening on Avista's 20-year Integrated Resource Plan, and the Sierra Club Spokane office says it is submitting more than 1,500 comments from Washingtonians.

Jace Bylenga, an organizing representative with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign in Spokane, says his group met with Avista early in the planning process, hoping to convince the utility to rely less on power generated from coal.

"We brought to the table some really compelling evidence of future potential costs for this facility, to their customers and everybody,” he relates. “And we were surprised to see that those weren't factored into their final plan that they submitted to the Utilities Commission."

Avista says coal makes up 9 percent of its energy mix, but Bylenga says based on what the company has reported to the state, the power delivered to customers is closer to 20 percent coal-generated.

While the Sierra Club's concerns about coal are environmental, Bylenga also points out that the Integrated Resource Plan doesn't address some likely red flags for ratepayers – as big questions loom about Colstrip, the Montana coal plant that Avista co-owns with several other utilities.

"There's groundwater pollution, there are future costs associated with air pollution,” Bylenga points out. “And it's uncertain whether Avista customers are going to pay for that or Avista shareholders are going to pay for that, and how much it's going to be."

Avista says the two newer power-generating units it co-owns at the Colstrip plant were built in the 1980s and are among the nation's most modern.

The Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission will hear more from Avista and the public at its meeting Dec. 10 in Olympia.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA