Washington legislators look at bill to encourage state to get off of coal power

The Sierra Club and other environmental groups said Feb. 6 that an initiative in the Washington state legislature to get the state off of power from the coal-fired Colstrip power plant in Montana wouldn’t make that move fast enough.

Washington’s legislature must substantially improve a proposal to transition the state fully off coal-fired electricity and onto renewable energy and energy efficiency, the club said. The legislative proposal, HB 2002/SB 5874, would replace Puget Sound Energy’s (PSE) coal-fired electricity from the Colstrip power plant, which is a facility it co-owns with several parties, including PPL Corp. PSE currently receives about 30% of its electricity supply from coal, mostly from Colstrip, the club added. Investor-owned utilities Avista and Pacific Power also use Colstrip power to supply their Washington state customers.

“PSE took a step today that can start a more serious conversation about retiring the Colstrip plant. We’re missing essential elements—retirement dates and replacing the coal power with clean, renewable energy—that need to be included in any legislation up for approval,” said Bill Arthur, the Sierra Club’s Deputy Western Beyond Coal Campaign Director. “The risk to Washington customers is too high to delay: Colstrip is old and its operating costs are going up. It needs modern pollution controls, and its utility owners could face potential fines for the plant’s air and water quality violations. Without action now, all of those costs could fall on Washington families and businesses whose electricity comes from PSE, Avista and Pacific Power.”

A statewide network of community leaders, ratepayers, conservation groups and clean energy advocates have asked for a plan that calls for an early retirement date for Colstrip and replaces its coal electricity with renewable energy to the greatest possible extent.

“We support a planned, orderly and timely transition from coal to clean energy that treats Colstrip’s workers and community with fairness while retiring the polluting Montana coal plant and replacing it with clean, renewable energy,” said Jessica Finn Coven, Washington state director of Climate Solutions. “Colstrip’s impacts on global warming and community health require us to take action now, not delay another decade or two.”

“PSE has a tremendous opportunity to give Washington residents what they want: clean energy solutions that provide economic opportunity for more families,” said Becky Kelley, president of Washington Environmental Council. “We’re eager to partner with PSE, Avista and Pacific Power to set a retirement schedule that accelerates our transition off coal power, ensures fair treatment for the Colstrip community, and creates good clean energy jobs.”

The bill was read for the first time on Feb. 6 and then referred to the House Committee on Technology & Economic Development, which plans a Feb. 12 hearing on the proposal. It would allow the state Utilities and Transportation Commission to pass costs of getting out of coal along to ratepayers. For example, the bill says: “For each eligible coal plant designated in a binding notice for retirement by an electrical company, the electrical company shall have the right to place all or a portion of its net plant investment in an eligible coal plant into a regulatory asset account. Any request by an electrical company to place all or a portion of its net plant investment in a retired eligible coal plant nto a regulatory asset account shall be allowed and approved by the commission. … All revenues required to recover the cost of the electrical company’s investment in such regulatory asset account, and all revenues required to provide the electrical company its allowed rate of return on such investment, shall be included in the electrical company’s rates.”

Notable is that the only in-state coal-fired power plant, the 1,340-MW Centralia facility of TransAlta Corp., is already under a state greenhouse gas mandate to shut one of its units in 2020, and the other in 2025.

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.