SEATTLE - Puget Sound Energy supplies power to 11 Washington counties - and although it has made some headway as a clean energy leader, almost one-third of PSE's electrical output still comes from the Colstrip Generating Facility, a coal-fired power plant in eastern Montana.
A new coalition, "Coal-Free PSE," is pushing the utility to change that.
More than 100 coal plants are being phased out nationally since 2010 in favor of energy efficiency and cleaner power sources, according to Bruce Nilles, the Sierra Club's deputy conservation director and co-director of its Beyond Coal campaign.
"Puget has done a lot of good stuff in the past, but they seem stuck about taking the last big step and phasing out coal altogether. We're simply asking them to continue to think about being a leader, and winding down this coal plant and replacing it with clean energy, as soon as possible."
Ultimately, ratepayers in Washington end up footing some of the bill for the air and water pollution that's part of the Colstrip plant. Anne Hedges, program director for the Montana Environmental Information Center, says local ranchers and landowners have had problems since the 1980s with coal ash storage, and at least one lawsuit continues.
"Colstrip's owners already paid neighboring landowners $25 million for contaminating their groundwater because of these leaking ash ponds. But the water problems there persist. The ash ponds have not been cleaned up."
Coal isn't the cheapest power source by far, says Dr. Melissa Ahern, an associate professor at Washington State University's College of Pharmacy. Her research indicates that its environmental and health effects also should be factored into the cost.
"These are costs that play out in people's lives and, actually, we have much higher death rates in some of these areas. So, when we account for all of these costs, it actually conservatively doubles - but more probably triples - the price of coal-based electricity."
Coal-Free PSE says most Puget Sound Energy customers probably don't realize that some of the electricity they're paying for comes from a Montana coal plant. PSE owns one-third of the power output of the Colstrip plant, which is the second-largest in the western United States.
Content provided on behalf of Sierra Club Beyond Coal. Contact: Seth Ballhorn, 206-378-0114, firstname.lastname@example.org, coalfreepse.org