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Coal-power phase-out bills approved by WA, OR legislatures - KXLH.com | Helena, Montana

Coal-power phase-out bills approved by WA, OR legislatures

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Colstrip plant (Photo from Puget Sound Energy website) Colstrip plant (Photo from Puget Sound Energy website)
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The Washington Legislature late Friday approved a bill to help Washington’s largest electric utility finance the eventual closure of two coal-fired power plants at Colstrip.

Puget Sound Energy, a co-owner of Colstrip 1 and 2, said through a spokesman that the measure doesn’t force the closure the two plants in eastern Montana.

But an official for a Washington environmental group that worked with PSE on the bill said it lays the financial groundwork for closing the plants, by creating a fund to pay for closure costs.

“You wouldn’t be setting up such a fund if you didn’t believe you needed to use it sooner rather than later,” said Bill Arthur of the Washington Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign.

The Sierra Club and other forces in Washington have been pushing to phase out the use of coal-fired power in the state, because of its impact on climate change.

The Washington House approved the bill Friday 92-5, sending it to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee for his signature.

A spokeswoman for Inslee said his policy team will review it before he decides whether to sign it – but Inslee is on record as a supporter of phasing out coal-fired power in Washington.

Friday’s vote in Washington also came two days after the Oregon Legislature approved a bill requiring its two largest electric utilities to forsake coal-fired power by 2030 or 2035 – including power produced by two other plants at Colstrip.

Two Montana lawmakers who support the Colstrip plants said Friday they’re disappointed with the actions, and that they believe electric ratepayers in Oregon and Washington will end up paying much higher prices for electricity if they forsake Colstrip-generated power.

Sen. Jim Keane, D-Butte, also said the Washington bill is primarily about Puget Sound Energy protecting its bottom line, by setting up a fund whose revenue otherwise would go to ratepayers.

“There is no good news for Montana in that bill,” he told MTN News. “And they’re not telling us their intention, and they never have.”

“You never get the same story out of anybody over there when you talk to them,” added Sen. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip. “What I do know, is that you can’t count on anything they say.”

Ankney said the next Montana Legislature, in 2017, should consider legislation to lessen the local impact of any future Colstrip closure.

The Washington bill creates a way for Puget Sound, the state’s largest electric utility, to take millions of dollars of energy credits and place them in a fund to be used to pay the cleanup costs of closing Colstrip 1 and 2.

Those funds now go to offset electric rates for PSE’s 1.1 million customers.

The bill also says if the plant is closed before 2023, the fund can’t be used to pay for closure costs – but it does allow for some exceptions.

Puget Sound owns half of Colstrip 1 and 2; the other half is owned by Talen Energy, which sells the power on wholesale markets and directly to several Montana industrial operations, such as mines and refineries.

Arthur of the Sierra Club said Puget Sound ratepayers are going to pay for the closure of Colstrip 1 and 2 eventually – and that the bill allows PSE to set up a fund dedicated to paying those costs and that won’t be required to earn a profit.

He also said he believes that renewable power can replace coal-fired power, without a big impact on ratepayers.

“It’s happening all across the country,” Arthur said.

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