The bill that would transition the state's only coal-fired plant away from coal by 2020 has been amended to remove that firm date, providing a boost to supporters of the Centralia facility and its 300 jobs.
Lawmakers continue to discuss what deadline to make TransAlta coal-free should be inserted into Senate Bill 5769, which passed through the Senate’s Ways and Means Committee Thursday.
TransAlta, the Canadian firm that owns the power plant, had pushed for a 2025 date to end the use of coal at its 1,376-megawatt power plant, which produces 10 percent of the power generated in the state.
The 2020 deadline imposed in previous iterations of the bill has been removed, leaving it up to lawmakers during the rest of the legislative session to negotiate a new deadline with Gov. Chris Gregoire.
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In a 2009 executive order, the governor and TransAlta had agreed on a date of 2025 for the plant to end its use of coal.
Her top policy advisor testified Thursday in favor of the amended bill.
“This will increase the certainty for all the parties involved, which is very important in this effort,” said Keith Phillips, executive policy advisor for the governor’s office. “The governor remains in strong support of transitioning off of coal to a cleaner source of electricity that is practical.
“It has be done in a way that’s fair to the company, it has to be done in a way that keeps the lights on for a reliable electrical grid and most importantly it has to done in a way that protects the jobs and the economy of the affected community.”
TransAlta also testified in support of the amendment.
“We’re encouraged with the changes in the bill, and we see this as a step in the right direction,” said Angela Mallow, spokeswoman for TransAlta. “These are positive changes that will allow the company, environmental groups and the Legislature to continue to work together.”
TransAlta has argued throughout the entire process that any closure before 2025 was unattainable.
Most of the bill remains largely intact. A decommissioning body comprised of local officials and individuals hand-picked by the governor will still be formed to insure all parties have a voice in the plant’s eventual transition.
Lewis County and Centralia will also receive $6.5 million from the state over the course of 12 years to help with the loss of the plant that has been a mainstay in the community since the 1970s.
The bill will now move on to the Senate’s Rules Committee while negotations continue between the company, the Legislature and the governor’s office. The bill has to make it out of the committee by the first Monday in March for it to be discussed on the Senate floor.
“We’re hoping the negotiations are successful and timely,” Phillips said.