Washington Governor Signs Law to End Coal-Fired Power in the State

Washington Governor Signs Law to End Coal-Fired Power in the State

OLYMPIA, Washington, May 4, 2011 (ENS) – Washington Governor Chris Gregoire Friday signed legislation to phase out coal-fired energy production at the TransAlta power plant in Centralia, the only coal-fired power plant in the state. The move will end coal-fired power in Washington state in the next 14 years.

More than 70 percent of the electricity consumed in Washington is generated by hydroelectric dams, with natural gas and nuclear power making up msot of the remainder. Electricity generated from non-hydro renewable sources such as biomass, wind, waste, and landfill gas accounted for a little less than two percent.

Senate Bill 5769 enacts into law an agreement reached after two years of negotiations among the Sierra Club, Governor Gregoire and the Canadian company TransAlta to close the state’s only two coal boilers, the first in 2020 and the second in 2025.

“The Centralia power plant has long been a critical part of the regional economy,” Gregoire said at the bill signing ceremony at the power plant, attended by TransAlta employees and executives, legislators, and members of the environmental and labor communities.

“I want to thank our partners at TransAlta, our environmental community, and labor for coming together to be part of Washington’s clean energy future,” the governor said. “I’d also like to thank our legislators, who gave this bill bipartisan support.”

The nearby Centralia coal mine provides about 85 percent of the annual 5.5 million ton fuel burn at the TransAlta power plant. (Photo courtesy TransAlta)

In 2009, Gregoire signed an executive order directing the Department of Ecology to work with TransAlta on an agreement that would apply the state’s greenhouse gas emissions performance standards by no later than December 31, 2025.

“TransAlta is a progressive power company that strives to produce more electricity with less environmental impact, every day,” said TransAlta President and CEO Steve Snyder. “We are proud to play a leading role in this unique collaboration of industry, government, community and environmentalists to chart a new energy future for Washington State. With this bill, TransAlta will be able to continue powering this community with new investments in power production and new jobs.”

TransAlta is Canada’s largest producer of wind power, operating more than a third of Canada’s installed 3,549 MW wind capacity. Over the last two years TransAlta has constructed three new wind facilities and completed expansions of two existing facilities.

“This is what significant progress fighting climate disruption looks like,” said Andrew Rose, a Sierra Club volunteer who worked on the multi-year effort by the national grassroots environmental organization. “Coal is the worst climate and health polluter in the world and today, Washington is taking a big step toward finally moving beyond coal.”

“This victory is a testament to the hard work of dedicated community members and passionate volunteers who simply want to protect their neighborhoods and their family’s health from coal’s toxic pollution,” said Doug Howell, Washington representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.

The Sierra Club worked with conservation, public health, faith and clean energy advocates, including the Northwest Energy Coalition, the Washington Environmental Council, Climate Solutions, the National Parks Conservation Association, Earthjustice and Earth Ministry to advocate for sensible solutions to the problems presented by TransAlta’s pollution.

The coal-fired power plant endangered public health and the environment in Washington by emitting toxic pollutants such as mercury, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter into Washington’s air and water.

“Coal is incredibly dangerous to our health, and coal’s pollution contributes to four of the five leading causes of death in the United States,” said Rose. “This agreement is both literally and figuratively a breath of fresh air for families across the state.”

Bruce Nilles, deputy conservation director for the Sierra Club, said, “Today, we are one significant step closer to being truly free from coal in the Northwest, which will bring about a cleaner, safer, healthier and more prosperous future.”

Under the new law:

  • In 2013, TransAlta will install additional air pollution control technology to further reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides at the plant. The TransAlta plant is the state’s largest single industrial source of nitrogen oxide emissions. Nitrogen oxides are one of the causes of visibility-limiting regional haze in national parks and on federal lands.
  • TransAlta agrees to contribute $30 million in a community investment fund to help with economic development and energy efficiency projects, as well as $25 million in an energy technology transition fund, to be spent on supporting innovative energy technologies and companies in Washington state.
  • TransAlta will be allowed in the interim to sell coal power under long-term contracts within Washington, which will give the company the financial stability needed to transition to a cleaner source of energy.

“I am proud for many reasons, but mainly because I have never seen such collaborative work evolve in this fashion during my 13 years of work at the Legislature,” said state Senator Phil Rockefeller, a Democrat. “I believe what made this agreement possible was the respect and dedication each party brought to the table. The result is a cleaner energy future, with power, jobs, health and environmental benefits that all can share.”

“When this bill had its final hearing, business, labor, environmental and health advocates were all sitting side by side at the testimony table,” said state Representative Dave Upthegrove, a Democrat. “They were asking us to move forward with this, and we listened.”

Washington now joins Oregon in approving a plan to phase out coal-fired power, setting the Pacific Northwest on a path to becoming the nation’s first coal-free region.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2011. All rights reserved.

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