Colstrip Power Plant in Colstrip, Mont. Photo by Puget Sound Energy.

Puget Sound Energy to Retire Some Coal-Fired Power

PSE has finally agreed on an end date to its dirtiest power source.

Washington’s power grid may have gotten one step closer to being carbon-free: In a settlement with the Sierra Club announced Tuesday, Puget Sound Energy and co-owner Talen Energy finally agreed to shut down the two oldest, dirtiest units of a coal-fired power plant in Montana.

PSE still gets 20 percent of its electricty from Colstrip, the decades-old coal facility that’s been pegged as one of America’s dirtiest power plants. On Tuesday, the Sierra Club agreed to drop its lawsuit against PSE and Talen alleging violations of the federal Clean Air Act as long as the two companies permanently retire these units by July 1, 2022.

The Sierra Club celebrates the settlement as a “huge opportunity to replace this power with clean, renewable energy”; Puget Sound Energy takes care to point out that the “units are becoming less economic as the price of natural gas has dropped and remained low.” (Indeed, “less economic” is putting it mildly; the U.S. coal industry is in the midst of something more like catastrophic financial collapse.)

Regardless, the mutually beneficial promise comes a good deal sooner than what an early version of a Colstrip-related bill that passed the legislature this spring would have required. An early iteration of that bill provided a framework for the retirement of Colstrip Units 1 and 2, but wouldn’t have required a named closure date until the end of 2017; the bill that actually passed, in the end, simply created a financing strategy for PSE to do some environmental cleanup around the site.

As a result, Tuesday’s announcement comes as a relief to Northwest Energy Coalition executive director Nancy Hirsch, who watched the bill “take lots of twists and turns on its way to final passage.” She and her colleagues are “thrilled,” she says, “that there is a real closure date on the table now. That is very important.”

Governor Jay Inslee also applauded the agreement. “The settlement reflects the market realities in the power sector,” he said in a statement, “and will allow PSE to responsibly manage their risks, protect their ratepayers, and reduce pollution. This agreement is consistent with the legislation I signed earlier this year and puts us on a path that is good for Washington ratepayers and good for clean air.”

The settlement does not impact, however, PSE’s share of Units 3 and 4, which are much more energy-efficient, but still just as coal-fired.

According to PSE’s statement on Tuesday, “Units 3 and 4 will remain as a productive part of our diverse generating portfolio, providing our customers reliable and efficient service and ensuring continued operations at Colstrip.”

According to the Sierra Club, “The retirement of Colstrip Units 1 and 2 will help Washington meet its carbon goals.”

What, precisely, those goals are, remains to be seen. Also on Tuesday, eighteen parents and grandparents launched a three-day hunger strike on the steps of the Capitol Building in Olympia, protesting the current draft of Ecology’s Clean Air Rule in advance of a public hearing on July 14. The current draft does precious little, they say, to combat climate change.

This post has been modified to reflect changes in the final draft of SB 6248. While an earlier draft of the bill gave PSE the option of purchasing a larger share of Colstrip Unit 3 through a possible exemption from state emissions standards, and created a framework for the retirement of Units 1 and 2, the final draft does not.

More in News & Comment

Bob Ferguson is going after controversial Trump administration policies once again. Photo by Joe Mabel/Wikimedia Commons
AG Ferguson Takes on Trump’s Immigrant Family Separation

Washington’s Attorney General plans to sue the federal government over the “zero tolerance” policy.

Since he first ran for the King County Prosecutor’s Office in 2007, Dan Satterberg has never faced an electoral challenger. Photo courtesy Dan Satterberg
The Political Invulnerability of King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg

He hasn’t faced an electoral challenge since taking office. Does his new longshot social justice-minded challenger stand a chance?

Aneelah Afzali, executive director of American Muslim Empowerment Network, was the featured speaker at 21 Progress’s Rise #7 event. Photo by Melissa Hellmann
How a Local Muslim Activist Is Bridging the Faith Divide to Foster Hope

As part of 21 Progress’ Rise series, Aneelah Afzali drew parallels between anti-Muslim rhetoric and immigration xenophobia.

After Seattle’s controversial employee head tax was repealed, King County Executive Dow Constantine wants to bond against existing tax revenues to generate $100 million for affordable housing. Photo by Joe Mabel/Wikipedia Commons
County Executive Proposes $100 Million Affordable Housing Bond

The money was already coming, but Constantine wants to speed up the process.

The exterior of the University District crisis pregnancy center, 3W Medical for Women. Photo by Keiko DeLuca
How Title X Cuts Impact UW Women’s Health

Some student advocates worry that slashed budgets could drive student to misleading crisis pregnancy centers.

Trans Pride Seattle seeks to strengthen the transgender and non-binary community. 
Photo courtesy of Gender Justice League
Trans Pride Seattle Continues Marching

In light of federal budget cuts, the parade that highlights marginalized voices survives due to community crowdfunding.

As the executive director of the Tenants Union of Washington State, Violet Lavatai (left) believes that YIMBY policies 
do not actually help the communities most in need of housing. Photo courtesy Tenants Union of Washington State
The Growing Power of Seattle YIMBYs

The tech-funded “Yes in My Backyard” movement thinks the housing crisis can be solved by rapid development, but does it only benefit those at the top?

Hidden River Farms is 100 acres of farmland in Grays Harbor County. Photo by Lucia Wyss
Sowing the Seeds of Mental Health

Suicide is an epidemic amongst agricultural workers, but young farmers and state legislators are working to find solutions.

Most Read