Last coal plant in Pacific Northwest to shut down starting in 2020

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The last coal-fired power plant in the Pacific Northwest will shut down completely by 2025 under an agreement announced Saturday by Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire. The first boiler of TransAlta’s 1,460-megawatt plant in Centralia, Wash., is set to go offline in 2020 and the second in 2025.

“This agreement is sending a message that states are getting serious about combating global-warming pollution and are taking steps to open up markets for home-grown clean energy,” said Bruce Nilles, deputy conservation director with the Sierra Club, whose Beyond Coal Campaign has been involved in the negotiations. Nilles hinted at the breakthrough during a keynote speech at the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference in Eugene, Ore., but commented only after the announcement.


The only other such plant in the Pacific Northwest, the PG&E plant near Boardman, Ore., is already under an agreement to go offline in 2020.

Negotiations have been underway on the Washington plant for two years but accelerated over the last few months as the governor worked with environmental groups, unions and members of the community in southwest Washington and TransAlta to meet the state’s clean-energy goals. In 2009, Gregoire signed an executive order directing the state to apply mandated greenhouse-gas-emissions performance standards by no later than Dec. 31, 2025.

Saturday’s agreement moves up the timeline for meeting those performance standards for one of the two boilers to Dec. 31, 2020; the other boiler is still set to close Dec. 31, 2025.

The Sierra Club and other groups have been hammering at the coal industry over the last decade, and at coal-fired power plants in particular, as a leading source of environmental toxins and greenhouse-gas emissions. A Bush administration energy plan had proposed 150 new coal-fired power plants, later increased to 200. Litigation and public outcry have stopped most them. Of the 200 proposed plants, 150 have been dropped, 16 have been built, and the remainder are still the subject of ongoing litigation and negotiation.

Los Angeles is also the target of a clean-energy campaign by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power buys about 40% of its power from coal-fired plants in Utah, Nevada and New Mexico.

Nilles points out that California, Oregon and Washington have no coal resources and must import coal, so transitioning to cleaner fuels also means economic benefits, as the states spend on gas, wind, solar and clean energy innovations instead. “Shutting down coal offers a huge boost for clean-energy entrepreneurs, many of whom are in California, Oregon and Washington,” he added.

The Washington agreement includes provisions to protect jobs in the Centralia area and should not result in layoffs. In a press release, Gregoire said, “What a proud day for the Centralia community and all of Washington state.” She also prodded the Washington Legislature to quickly implement the agreement.


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-- Dean Kuipers