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Public Hearing in WA for Future of NW's Largest Coal Plant

Puget Sound Energy has a 25% stake in Unit 4 of the Colstrip coal plant in Montana. (P.primo/Wikimedia Commons)
Puget Sound Energy has a 25% stake in Unit 4 of the Colstrip coal plant in Montana. (P.primo/Wikimedia Commons)
October 8, 2020

SEATTLE -- Washingtonians have a chance to weigh in on coal's future in the Northwest today.

The state's Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) is considering Puget Sound Energy's (PSE) proposal to sell its stake in Unit 4 of Colstrip, the largest coal plant in the Northwest.

The hearing comes days after UTC staff recommended the board reject the deal, saying it's not in the public's interest.

PSE wants to sell its stake for one dollar to Talen Energy and Northwestern Energy, which plan to operate the plant until at least 2042.

Doug Howell, senior campaign representative for the Washington State Sierra Club said the plant is no longer economical compared with renewable sources.

"We have seen a very clear swing and change in momentum, change in the facts," Howell contended. "Understanding of the reality of Colstrip has become apparent in a way that wasn't even so three to six months ago."

Under the deal, PSE would have to buy back 90 megawatts of power from Unit 4 of Colstrip for five years, regardless of whether there were cheaper sources of electricity on the market.

Janet Kim, PSE spokesperson, said the sale will enable the utility to become coal-free by 2025, which is required under Washington's Clean Energy Transformation Act.

Howell countered the sale would undermine the spirit of that law.

"If there was any way to extend and prolong the emissions from the dirtiest coal plant in the Northwest, it would be for Puget Sound Energy to sell their plant to Northwestern in Montana," Howell warned.

Howell also believes PSE could be hurting its future ability to get clean power from Montana by selling its transmission line in this deal.

"The long-term value of that transmission line cannot be understated," Howell stressed. "What they're selling it for is literally pennies on the dollar compared to its long-term value."

Both of the UTC's public hearing sessions today are virtual. The first is at 1:30 p.m. and the second is at 6:00 p.m.

Disclosure: Sierra Club-Beyond Coal Campaign contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Energy Policy, Environment, and Environmental Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA