Politics & Government

Lawmakers will have say on coal plant

TransAlta's tax exemptions likely will be upheld by the end of this Legislative session.

However, a Legislative task force has been assembled to give input on how the plant will lower its greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.

The group will be made up of a member of each caucus in the Senate and the House to influence how the state’s sole coal-fired plant will wean itself from coal by 2025.

“Personally, I don’t want to be in the position where I get ‘This is the deal and what we’re going to do,’” said Sen. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge Island, the chairman of the Senate Environment, Water and Energy Committee. He added that the Legislature could make more informed decisions by getting into the process in its early stages.

Rockefeller will serve as a member on the four-person state team along with Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside; Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon; and Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda.

Stu Clark, the air-quality program manager for the Department of Ecology, said it was better to bring lawmakers in “sooner rather than later” because they ultimately will guide the Centralia plant toward meeting set standards.

However, the transition from coal to a cleaner form of energy or upgrades at the plant won’t be easy.

“Technologically, yes, we can get there, and we can find a way to get there,” Clark said. “The hard part is the political, energy and financial side.”

The alterations the plant would require wouldn’t be an inexpensive undertaking. Rockefeller said the Canada-based energy company could look for state funding to supplement the project.

“But it’s too soon to know,” he said about whether the Legislature would kick in some money to make the changes. “We need to know what the financial reality of the company is, and that’s when we can begin to answer that question.”

Additional state and federal incentives might be a way to make the project more affordable, he added.

Marcy McAuley, a senior communications adviser for TransAlta, said a cost estimate has yet to be determined and will depend on what the Legislature and the steam plant decide to do.

“We don’t know what path we’re going to take,” she said. “But the best path is one that protects jobs and our shareholders.”