Opinion

Clean, not coal, for energy future in Washington state

Washington State is a proud leader on clean energy. Our only remaining coal energy plant, TransAlta, will be retired in full by 2025. Our renewable sectors are growing fast: wind and solar energy and energy efficiency support more than 4,000 jobs in our state, with the potential to create at least 4,000 more.

But Puget Sound Energy customers in Whatcom County might be surprised that around 30 percent of their electricity still comes from coal. Right now the health and environmental impacts of dangerous coal energy production are being outsourced to our neighbors in Colstrip, Montana, where PSE owns a stake in the dirty, polluting Colstrip coal plant. The Colstrip plant produces as much carbon pollution as half of all passenger cars in Washington, holding us back from achieving our clean energy goals. It’s time we look beyond our own borders and examine the impacts of the energy we consume, whether it is produced in our state or elsewhere.

Local community leaders, public officials, municipalities and clean energy advocates have called on the legislature to move Washington off coal-fired electricity, most of which comes from Colstrip. Our local Whatcom County legislators serve on the key committees involved in finding a solution to Washington’s coal problem. Unfortunately, to date, proposals like Senate Bill 5874 fail to take advantage of the tremendous opportunity before us to create jobs and grow the clean energy economy in our state.

We should replace coal-fired electricity must transition to clean, sustainable energy solutions (like wind, solar and energy efficiency). Robust clean energy industries can create thousands of family-wage jobs in our communities, but right now there’s no plan for transitioning off coal onto these competitive, long-term power solutions. And at a time when climate change already hurts western Washington’s forest health, snowpacks, shellfish industries and fisheries, the need to get off coal is imperative. To protect local industries, we must move to energy sources that don’t spew even more carbon pollution into the atmosphere.

Our state should also establish a clear timeline for Colstrip’s retirement and protect the authority of the Utility and Transportation Commission, which oversees utilities in our state, to protect Washington customers from unfair costs. We need the Utility and Transportation Committee to be involved to ensure that any costs associated retiring Colstrip are shared fairly between customers and utilities.

Perhaps most importantly, Washington needs to help move forward a serious conversation about creating a fair process that considers our neighbors in Montana. A just and orderly transition for Colstrip and its workers is possible, but the utilities and coal companies involved must be committed to helping communities plan for the rapidly approaching post-coal future.

The retirement of Colstrip is a unique opportunity to develop clean energy jobs in the Pacific Northwest. We shouldn’t squander it with unenforceable studies on half-measures. If we commit fully to retiring Colstrip and replacing it with sources like wind and solar, we can build the green economy and create a more sustainable future for Washington state. It’s time to ask our legislators to support a coal transition done right, by making sure that any legislative package includes a timely retirement date, clean energy transition, fair consideration for plant workers, and protections for Washington’s business and family energy customers.

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