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Inslee wants to wean electric utilities off coal

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 18, 2014 at 12:41 pm •  Published: May 18, 2014
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SEATTLE (AP) — With an abundant supply of hydroelectric power, Washington state currently gets less than 14 percent of its electricity from coal.

Gov. Jay Inslee wants to take that down to zero over time.

To wean the state off coal-generated power, the Democratic governor will have to persuade the state's three private electric utilities — Puget Sound Energy, Pacific Power and Avista Corp. — to reduce or eliminate electricity they get from plants in Montana and Wyoming.

The utilities say coal-fired electricity is reliable and cost-effective and only part of a diverse portfolio that includes hydropower, natural gas and wind, and for now coal appears to be a part of their long-term energy plans.

Saying the state has a moral responsibility to act on climate change, Inslee signed an executive order last month directing state agencies to negotiate with utilities to phase out electricity produced from coal.

"It's not a trivial activity by any means, but I think it can be done," said Tony Usibelli, director of Washington's energy office, on eliminating coal-fired electricity from the state's fuel mix.

The state's only coal-fired power plant, the TransAlta facility in Centralia, is slated to shut down by 2025. Most of the state's coal-fired electricity, or coal by wire, is imported from the Colstrip power plant in eastern Montana and the Jim Bridger plant in Wyoming.

One elected official in Montana recently criticized Inslee's proposal as job-killing, while environmentalists cheered it as a big step toward making Washington coal-free.

"We have an unparalleled opportunity to be carbon free," said Doug Howell with the Sierra Club, which has targeted Colstrip and other coal-fired power plants over environmental and public health concerns from burning coal.

But Colstrip has its supporters. The mayor of the city of Colstrip, Rose Hanser, said Inslee's push would have serious consequences for jobs and people in her region.

"How are you going to provide this kind of energy at this dollar amount, and where are you going to replace these family wage jobs?" said Hanser.

Puget Sound Energy is the largest owner of the four-unit Colstrip plant, which can produce enough electricity to power about 1.75 million homes. PPL Montana operates the facility on behalf of six utilities, including Avista and PacifiCorp.

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