RE Sources submitted comments earlier this year to support the state-wide effort led by the Sierra Club to make Puget Sound Energy (PSE) a coal-free electric utility.
While the majority of energy for PSE comes from hydroelectric dams, the utility that powers Whatcom County still gets about 32% of its electricity from coal-fired power plants.
PSE is the primary owner of one of the largest remaining and dirtiest coal-fired power plants in the Western United States, the Colstrip Generating Facility in Colstrip, Montana.
Your voice as a PSE ratepayer can make a difference over whether or not a highly polluting coal-fired facility continues to provide energy for Washington state homes and businesses, or if we move past this outdated fuel source to cleaner, smarter, and more innovative means of meeting our basic needs.
n Washington, like in most of the country, coal is on its way out. The combination of community-based environmental resistance and the increasing competitiveness of cleaner sources of energy has proven a potent mix: more and more utilities are moving away from coal as a primary energy source.
In 2003, coal provided 50% of the energy used for electrical generation in the United States, now that number is down to 37% and is expected to continue to decline. The advent of renewables, natural gas fracking, and widespread increases in energy efficiency all have played a significant role in the reduction of coal as a source of electrical energy.
Washington state has the relative good fortune of being able to source most of its energy from hydroelectric dams and natural gas power plants. While neither source is without significant environmental harm, both come at substantially lower social burden than burning coal, which remains a dominant power source in the Eastern United States. Despite the state's advantages in this area, 14% of Washington's electrical energy in 2011 came from burning coal. Only 2% came from alternative renewable sources, such as wind, solar and biomass.
While PSE continues to buy power from Washington's only remaining coal power plant, the Transalta Centralia facility, Transalta entered into an agreement with the state government in 2011 that would phase out this plant by 2025 in an effort to reduce the state's carbon pollution and other toxic emissions. PSE's most substantial emissions actually come from outside the state -- primarily from the Colstrip Generating Facility, which is majority owned by PSE.
While PSE has committed to reducing its emissions in recent years, its continued reliance on coal makes the utility one of the dirtiest producers of electricity in the state.
PSE's total carbon footprint was 15.4 million tons in 2012, the equivalent of approximately 3.2 million cars. The vast majority of these emissions come from burning coal.
It is important to acknowledge that the Colstrip plant has substantially reduced its emissions, especially of mercury, in recent years. But improvements, while badly needed, are only a partial solution -- the continued operation of Colstrip, especially of its oldest burners, present considerable risk to public health, local environments, and global climate stability.
Colstrip is a substantial emitter of air pollution. The plant stands out even among coal-fired power plants for its emissions -- it is ranked the 8th dirtiest in the entire United States, and has been in some years the dirtiest plant west of the Mississippi. It remains the largest point source of greenhouse gas emissions in the Western United States, burning one rail car of coal every 5 minutes. Rosebud County, where Colstrip is located, has the 3rd highest asthma rate in the state of Montana.
In addition to its emissions into the air, the Colstrip power plant and its associated fly ash ponds are substantial sources of water pollution. Toxic coal ash ponds cover over 500 acres and contain mercury, chromium, boron and arsenic. The ponds have been leaking into local aquifers and ranchlands since the 1970s, and has been the subject of numerous lawsuits. A group of 57 neighboring ranchers and well users won a $25 million settlement from PSE arising from a 2008 lawsuit due to the impact the plant has had on the safety of the water for people and livestock. Levels of boron in nearby aquifers has been measured at 13 times legal limits.
The campaign to switch PSE off coal and onto cleaner sources of energy has been driven primarily by the Sierra Club and local grassroots groups located in the communities around the Colstrip plant. The effort has included both legal and regulatory measures to reduce the continuing impacts of Colstrip on the local environment, as well as an effort to educate PSE consumers on the costs of burning coal.
Read more about all these legal actions at the Sierra Club website.
In addition to legal and regulatory action, the Sierra Club has been pushing a number of public education campaigns to build support for improving and eventually closing Colstrip.
"We know that the end point for coal is soon. We know that coal is a dead end."
-- Andy Wappler, VP for Corporate Affairs, PSE
Every two years, PSE must submit an Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) to the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC). This plan provides the framework for meeting electric load requirements for the next 20 years. This planning process provides the only public comment opportunity to head-off the long-term financing of facilities like Colstrip.
Until October 10, PSE customers have the opportunity to comment on the IRP. You can submit comments to:
In the 2013 Draft IRP, PSE concluded “continued reliance on Colstrip reduces cost and market risk to consumers.”
RE Sources submitted comments, along with a number of other conservation and community groups, urging the UTC to address issues with the current IRP proposed by PSE. The current IRP fails short in a number of areas.
Tell the Utilities and Transportation commission: Please include the social and regulatory costs of carbon emissions in the Integrated Resource Plan for PSE. Demand a true assessment of the environmental costs of Colstrip.
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