Coal 

Nail in Colstrip’s coffin

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee dealt a cross-border blow last week to Montana’s controversial Colstrip power plant, clearly stating his intention to wean his state off imported coal-generated electricity in favor of renewable energy alternatives. Environmental advocates greeted the announcement as further confirmation that officials and citizens on the West Coast are getting more serious about addressing climate change.

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  • Chad Harder

Colstrip, widely known as one of the dirtiest coal-fired plants west of the Mississippi, has increasingly come under fire this year. The plant already faces several pending lawsuits and will likely need to spend tens of millions of dollars on environmental compliance and cleanup. In February, the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission took aim at Colstrip after Puget Sound Energy included the plant in a 20-year Integrated Resource Plan. PSE owns a large share in Colstrip and gets roughly 30 percent of its electricity for Washington customers from the plant. The Washington commission requested that PSE redo its plan, stating that “to embark on investments [in Colstrip] with so much uncertainty could be harmful to PSE, its ratepayers and the broader public interest.”

Anne Hedges, deputy director at the Montana Environmental Information Center, calls Inslee’s April 29 announcement “one more nail in the coffin of that plant.” The governor’s executive order, which also established a 21-member Carbon Emissions Reduction Task Force, is specifically aimed at bringing Washington closer to reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. While Inslee offered no specific timeline for when PSE and other Washington utilities—including another Colstrip co-owner, Avista Corp.—would need to officially cease importing coal-fired electricity, the commitment came as a boon for longtime critics of Colstrip.

“The fact that [Washington citizens] are a customer, a receiver of this product, and saying, ‘We don’t want it anymore,’ that sends a big message,” says Bob Clark, spokesman for the Sierra Club in Missoula.

Inslee’s push is only part of the Colstrip story, Clark says. With Colstrip’s market in Washington now facing an expiration date, and with officials in Oregon voicing increasing doubt about the future of coal, the broader question of Colstrip’s future will have to be discussed. Hedges agrees, and believes it’s important that Montanans play a role in how things move forward.

“We should be having this conversation in the state, and Inslee’s announcement last week underscored it,” she says. “There isn’t a long future for Colstrip.”

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