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Northwest's Largest Coal-Fired Plant In Political Cross Hairs

Tom Banse


OLYMPIA, Wash. – Earlier this winter, Oregon regulators sealed a deal to shut down the coal-fired power plant in Boardman by 2020. Now the one other large coal-fired power plant in the Northwest is in the political cross hairs. A measure debated Tuesday in Olympia would require the privately-owned plant in Centralia, Washington to stop burning coal by 2020 as well.


Majority Democrats in the Washington Legislature want to force the Centralia power plant to "transition," as they put it, to a cleaner fuel source. It could be natural gas or wood chips.

At first, state representative Marko Liias (D-Edmonds) proposed a deadline of 2015. But that's slipped now to 2020 to get broader legislative support. Liias says the big coal-fired plant has to figure into any effort to reduce global warming pollution.

Marco Liias: "The reality is that 80 percent of the emissions in our power generation sector come from this one location. Ten percent of all emissions in the state come from this one location. This is the largest single source emitter of greenhouse gases in the state of Washington. That's why I have proposed this bill."

Canadian energy company TransAlta owns the Centralia coal plant. An executive testified the 2020 deadline provides too little time to make an orderly transition.

Hundreds of workers and contractors from the plant carpooled to Olympia to share their worries. Mechanic Shaun Lefebvre rallied with co-workers on the steps of the capitol.

Shaun Lefebvre: "There's a lot of people here that pretty much will have to leave the area if the place shuts down. It's a great job and people don't want to lose it."

Not coincidentally, it was also Environmental Lobby Day in Olympia. The power plant workers shared the capitol campus with anti-coal campaigners, some wearing green hard hats.

The Sierra Club's Doug Howell says he wants to go "coal free" as soon as possible, but may compromise a little.

Doug Howell: "In the spirit of sausage making, we are going to try to meet our brothers half way. But we will only embrace them if we see some movement on the other side."

TransAlta's offer of a 2025 date to get off coal is unacceptable to environmental campaigners. We'll get a clue about which way the legislature is leaning when lawmakers take some preliminary votes in the coming week.

On the Web:

Bills in the Washington Legislature:

Original House Bill 1825 (Coal-fired plant decommissioned in 2015):

Senate Bill 5769 (Coal-fired plant decommissioned by 2020):

Copyright 2011 Northwest News Network