Weeks after Trump’s exit from global climate accord, Puget Sound Energy committing to new coal

As state leaders called for climate leadership in Washington State, Puget Sound Energy was negotiating a 10 year contract extension for coal that could extend the life of the Colstrip coal plant, which was the third largest source of climate pollution in the United States in 2015.

PSE, which is the largest utility in Washington State with 1.1 million customers across Western Washington, is the largest owner of Colstrip Units 3 and 4 in Eastern Montana. Mounting cleanup costs and the falling price of cleaner energy alternatives like wind and solar led PSE and other utilities that own the plant to commit last year to retiring the first two units no later than 2022. But PSE has yet to commit to a retirement date for Units 3 and 4.

PSE and other owners’ current contract for coal to fuel the plant expires in 2019. Westmoreland Coal Company, which runs the adjacent coal mine that serves as the plant’s sole fuel source, has indicated that it only has enough coal reserves under currently permitted areas to last through 2024, according to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Westmoreland is proposing to expand the 25,000-acre strip mine despite not having cleaned up previously mined habitat. A coal contract through 2029 would bolster the case for tearing up even more Montana grassland in search of coal and help perpetuate the life of the environmentally-disastrous plant.

PSE representatives admitted to the Seattle Times that they are negotiating a 10-year contract for new coal from Westmoreland, despite not having discussed the economic viability of the plant in the coming years. Contrary to Donald Trump’s rhetoric around coal, utilities across the West have continued to retire their coal plants in recent months in favor of cheaper, more environmentally friendly alternatives like wind, solar and energy efficiency. An analysis last year by Lazard, one of the largest financial advisory firms in the world, showed wind power being about half the cost of coal – $32 to $62 per megawatt hour compared to $60 to $143 for coal.

King County and 14 mayors whose constituents make up half of PSE’s customer base have called for an end to coal power by 2025 in King County’s Climate Action Plan. With the only coal plant in Washington, the Transalta facility in Centralia, scheduled to retire by 2025, Washington State could be nearly coal free by 2025 if PSE committed to transitioning away from Colstrip.

Cesia Kearns, Associate Campaign Director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, issued the following statement:

“Washington State has an opportunity to stand up to the Trump agenda and be a true climate leader, but we need to start backing up our rhetoric with concrete action to cut climate pollution. Getting Puget Sound Energy off dirty coal is the single most important thing we can do as a state to combat climate change. It’s time for our utilities and elected leaders to start walking their talk and commit to leaving our children clean air, clean water, and a safer world powered by clean energy.”

Doug Howell, Senior Campaign Representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, issued the following statement:

“The stars are aligning for Washington State to be coal free by 2025. That’s when Puget Sound Energy’s customer base wants off of coal, that’s when the mine that feeds Colstrip runs dry and that’s when the Paris Climate Accords call for cutting our climate pollution. Western Washington residents shouldn’t have to spend the next decade with the knowledge that they’re paying for a dirty coal plant every time they flip on a light switch.”

Last week the Seattle Times editorialized against PSE’s plans to recommit to sign the coal contract extension, noting the pressing need for local leadership given President Trump’s abandonment of the United States’ role as a global leader on climate action:

“(Puget Sound Energy) has no intention of letting go, and is preparing to renew a coal supply agreement that expires in 2019 with a new 10-year agreement, said Ronald Roberts, PSE’s director of thermal resources.

That’s a mistake — a decision that PSE’s shareholders and customers should pressure the utility to reverse. So, too, should the state Legislature, which has considered banning so-called coal by wire power imports but has not yet acted.

Trump’s retreat from the Paris agreement should be a clarifying moment for the climate-conscious, forward-thinking citizens of the Pacific Northwest. There is no hope for now of federal action on the human-caused threat of climate change. We’ve got to address it locally. Ending reliance on coal is a perfect place to focus.”

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