The left-wing Montana Environmental Information Center (MEIC) is urging Montanans to contact the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC) to oppose a plan by Puget Sound Energy – part owner of the Colstrip Power Plant – to use coal fired power from Colstrip to help power the Seattle Metropolitan Area for the next 20 years.
“PSE is single largest owner of the Colstrip coal-fired power plant, importing dirty coal-fired power from Montana to the Seattle metropolitan area. PSE has set out a long range plan that says it will continue to burn coal for at least another 20 years,” states MEIC on its website. “Right now, the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission has invited the public to comment on PSE’s plan, and we have a chance to persuade them to choose clean energy!”
In May, PSE – which provides power for much of Western Washington – submitted an “Integrated Resource Plan” to WUTC, outlining its plans for securing “reliable and cost effective energy” over the next 20 years. Included in the plan, is the continued use of cheap, coal fired power from Montana.
In a telephone interview with Media Trackers Montana, Christina Donegan – Manager of Strategic Communications with PSE – emphasized that efficiency and affordability remain the largest considerations for PSE in selecting power sources.
“Our first priority remains keeping rates low for our customers,” stated Donegan. “The IRP uses a neutral formula to determine our best options, and it found that coal remains a cheap and reliable source of power.”
Donegan also pointed out that subtracting coal completely from PSE’s portfolio would lead to $131 million in increased costs for its customers.
The Colstrip Power Plant began operation in 1975, and contains four coal-fired generating units. It is the second largest coal-fired power plant west of the Mississippi River and and has a generating capacity of about 2,000 megawatts according to its website. The plant directly employs 360 people, and a 2010 study from the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research found that the plant supports 3,740 jobs and is the by far the largest employer and taxpayer in Colstrip and Rosebud County.
“What MEIC is talking about is a direct assault on Montana jobs,” stated Chuck Denowh of Count on Coal Montana in a telephone interview. “These are good paying, steady jobs that mean a lot to our state.”
In addition to its economic benefits, Denowh, like Donegan, also highlighted the cheapness and reliability of coal.
“Just about anywhere you go, people want cheap power, and that’s coal,” Denowh said.
MEIC claims that the plant is not fit for service, because of issues with “toxic sludge” that is “contaminating the underlying aquifer” and its “antiquated pollution control technology.”
When asked about MEIC’s allegations, PSE’s Donegan emphasized that the Colstrip Plant met all government standards for operation.
“We reject any allegations that the plant is in violation of the Clean Air Act or EPA regulations,” she stated. “It meets all state and federal standards.”
MEIC also urges PSE to buy renewable power from Montana.
“Montana has an abundance of clean and renewable energy that creates good jobs for our state,” states MEIC. “Puget Sound Energy should consider investing in Montana’s affordable and clean energy.”
Donegan could not say for certain whether or not PSE was already buying renewable energy from Montana, but she did state that PSE has already invested $2 billion in green energy and outlined many different programs run by the company across the Pacific Northwest to promote the use of renewable power, however, in the near term, “we have to keep the lights on.”