President Barack Obama’s clean-power plan released Monday is expected to give additional momentum to efforts already underway in the Northwest to reduce the use of coal-fired electricity.
Though Washington gets more than 60 percent of its power from hydroelectricity, a 2012 state analysis found that the state still gets nearly 15 percent of its utility power from coal — a major source of carbon-dioxide emissions that drive climate change.
In the decade ahead, Washington’s use of coal is scheduled to decline sharply as the TransAlta coal plant near Centralia is phased out, with part of the complex shutting down in 2020 and the remainder in 2025.
The closure of the Transalta plant is expected to go a long way toward meeting the federal reductions in carbon emissions the Environmental Protection Agency would require for power plants operating in the state.
“We have been planning for this for a long time in the Northwest, and this is a good day,” said Ann Gravatt, a policy adviser with Climate Solutions.
Under the federal plan, each state has been assigned a specific target for lowering carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants, and each can choose how to track those reductions.
By one measure released Monday, the EPA plan for Washington would require by 2030 a 37 percent cut in power-plant carbon-emission rates compared with 2012, according to an EPA briefing document.
The federal rules also would have broader regional repercussions for Washington.
In Montana, the plan is likely to step up the pressure to close down the oldest of a four-plant coal complex in Colstrip that now provides Puget Sound Energy about 20 percent of its power.
In 2014, PSE officials told the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission that they were unable to say — without further analysis — whether future investments in Colstrip Plants 1 and 2 would be prudent. Last month, the commission opened an investigation to assess the costs of shutting down those two plants.
“We support that examination. It’s very important to have a good dialogue of what the next steps will be and what they will cost,” said Grant Ringel, director of communications for PSE.
As coal power is phased out, one big question is what will replace it.
Natural-gas power plants already have increased their generation as coal plants shutter in recent years. Natural gas, also a fossil fuel, produces less carbon dioxide than coal but still generates significant emissions.
The federal rules released Monday place a bigger emphasis on replacing coal-fired power plants with renewables or with beefed-up conservation.
Gov. Jay Inslee also is working at the state level to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from all sources. Last week, he announced the state Department of Ecology would develop rules to limit those emissions.