Chances are coal-based power plants will soon be a thing of the past in Washington.
In floor session yesterday the House passed Senate Bill 5769, a proposal that would phase out all coal-fired electricity generation in Washington by 2025, requiring the TransAlta power plant in Centralia to shift to cleaner energy sources and making Washington one of the first states to require an end to coal burning.
“The bill provides certainty for everyone,” said Rep. Dave Upthegrove, chairman of the House Environment Committee. “All the way around it’s a win-win.”
Upthegrove, a Des Moines Democrat, said he’d initially had some concerns about the bill because he was worried that it would hurt electricity consumers in Washington, even though it had the support of TransAlta and the environmental community when it came over from the Senate.
In response, he added a provision to the measure that will require the company to sell its power for less during its transition from coal to another energy source, a move he said will keep Puget Sound Energy or other utilities that contract with TransAlta from charging consumers more on their power bills.
To become law, the proposal has to return to the Senate for approval of House amendments and be signed by the governor, but state officials said its prospects look good.
The measure’s sponsor, Sen. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge Island, said he expects the Senate to vote in support of the House changes within a week and Karina Shagren, a spokeswoman for Gov. Chris Gregoire, said she expects the governor to approve the bill as well.
“She’s very supportive of this deal,” said Shagren, pointing out that it is similar to a 2009 executive order requiring the Ecology Department to enter negotiations with TransAlta to try to end coal power by 2025.
Going into this legislative session, Ecology Department officials and TransAlta had not reached an agreement under the governor’s order, and when proposals to end coal power in Washington were first introduced in the Legislature, they faced strong opposition from the industry and workers at the Centralia plant.
Early in March, though, negotiators announced they had struck a deal that requires TransAlta to end coal power at one boiler by 2020 and the other by 2025 and provide about $55 million in financial assistance for the Lewis County area during the shutdown.
In exchange, TransAlta got the right to sell its electricity under long-term contracts with Washington-based utilities during the transition process, something that coal-based power plants were barred from in the past.
When TransAlta stops using coal, Washington will see a change in greenhouse gas and mercury emissions because TransAlta representatives have said they plan to shift to natural gas as an energy source, which burns cleaner than coal.
It probably will not mean big changes in the energy mix that many Washington consumers use, though, because Puget Sound Energy owns part of a coal plant in Montana, and would probably continue to get about 20 to 30 percent of its power from coal, said spokesman Roger Thompson.
Part of the reason for that, he said, is Puget Sound Energy is required by law to buy the cheapest electricity it can for its consumers, and unless regulations pass that would add a cost for pollution, coal remains one of the cheapest sources of power on the market.