To the casual observer, it might be assumed that TransAlta was required to invest $55 million in community projects as part of its deal with the state to shut down its coal-fired operations. It’s important to be clear that’s not the case. TransAlta’s announcement of the funds Thursday morning represented the fulfillment of a promise, a rare case of a company providing far more than lip service to the idea of helping the community where it operates.
The Canadian company has a long history of donating millions of dollars to various causes in Lewis County and south Thurston County.
A stipulation in an agreement with the state to close the two coal-fired units in the facility by 2020 and 2025 was that the money would only be donated if the company acquired long-term contracts totaling 500 megawatts. They fell short of that mark and therefore could have walked away with an extra $55 million. The company’s president of U.S. entities Bob Nelson said talks of taking that route never took hold.
The closure of the coal mine almost a decade ago sent shock waves through the region, eliminating hundreds of family-wage jobs and leaving a hole in the local tax base that has never been filled. The company’s future is unclear as it decides how to potentially convert the facility to use other resources – such as natural gas – before its coal operations come to an end.
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The $55 million will go a long way to softening the blow on employees and the community, providing retraining, weatherization, investment funds for energy projects and dozens of other uses. It will be delivered in annual increments of $4.6 million, which will be split by committees led by proven community leaders Bob Guenther, Debbie Campbell and Alicia Bull.
This is excerpted from The Chronicle (Centralia, Wash.)