Sierra Club tries to push Puget Sound Energy out of Colstrip plant

The Sierra Club said April 19 that it launched a new campaign, “Coal-Free PSE,” to push electric utility Puget Sound Energy beyond coal.

“The Pacific Northwest is leading the charge in the race for a clean energy economy with the Beyond Coal campaign’s victories in the retirement of coal-fired power plants TransAlta in Washington and Boardman in Oregon,” said Bruce Nilles, Senior Campaign Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “With the launch of our Coal-Free PSE campaign, we urge Puget Sound Energy CEO Kimberly Harris to join thousands of Washington residents in their commitment to end our dependence on dirty coal.”

Nilles was referencing the fact that TransAlta Corp. (NYSE: TAC) with its Centralia coal plant, and Portland General Electric (NYSE: POR) with its Boardman coal plant, have each bowed to environmental pressure and agreed to shut those plants in future years.

Despite Puget Sound Energy’s public commitment to providing clean and renewable energy, the utility has been importing coal-fired power from the Colstrip plant in Montana, said the Sierra Club.

Colstrip is a minemouth facility supplied by an adjacent mine of Westmoreland Coal (NASDAQ: WLB), with the plant owned by several parties, including PPL Corp. (NYSE: PPL) and Puget Sound Energy.

“Colstrip’s pollution has been harming neighboring landowners and ranchers for decades, causing outcries from health professionals,” said Anne Hedges, Program Director for the Montana Environmental Information Center. “It is high time that Colstrip’s owners, including the largest owner, Puget Sound Energy, quit putting profits over public health and environmental protection.”

The Coal-Free PSE campaign aims to mobilize Washington ratepayers to demonstrate a “distaste for their hard-earned energy dollars being thrown away on propping up an outdated, dirty coal-fired power plant like Colstrip,” the Sierra Club said. The first phase of Coal-Free PSE will urge PSE and PSE CEO Kimberly Harris to end the utility’s reliance on coal through a grassroots petition drive kicking off April 19.

Washington state’s oldest local energy utility, Puget Sound Energy serves 1.1 million electric customers and more than 750,000 natural gas customers in 11 counties. It is a subsidiary of Puget Energy, which in turn is a subsidiary of Puget Holdings LLC.

Said the PSE website about the company’s environmental commitment: “We are steadily expanding our supplies of renewable power. Already the nation’s second-largest utility producer of wind power, we expect to triple our existing supply of renewable energy by 2020. While wind power is our predominant source of renewable energy, we also are exploring other cost-effective sources of renewable power including solar, geothermal and biomass energy.”

PSE noted in a fact sheet about Colstrip that a diversified-portfolio strategy minimizes risk – and costs – in the event that an unforeseen circumstance (a drought, for example) causes regional shortages in one form of power and drives up wholesale power prices. “While hydroelectricity comprises the single largest share of PSE’s total power-supply mix, low-cost electricity from coal-fired generation also makes up a substantial portion – about one-fifth of PSE’s total, long-term electric supply,” the fact sheet noted. “PSE’s power-supply portfolio includes the utility’s ownership interest in one coal-fired power-generating facility, the Colstrip Generating Station in eastern Montana.

Colstrip has a combined peak output of 2,094 MW, making it the second-largest coal-fired facility west of the Mississippi River. PSE owns one-third of that output – or 677 MW – enough to meet the peak electricity needs of about 500,000 households.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.