Puget Sound Energy target of 'Beyond Coal' campaign

Jun 15, 2012

The Pacific Northwest has made headlines for its efforts to become the first coal-free region in the United States. Washington’s last coal-fired power plant, in Centralia, is scheduled to be shut down by 2025.

Yet one of the region’s largest utilities still derives more than a third of its power from coal.

Puget Sound Energy, which serves more than a million customers in 11 counties, is a target of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.

Despite the utility’s profile  as a leader in the development of wind farms and other clean energy, it still gets about 35% of its power from coal-fired power plants, chief among them, the Colstrip Generating Station in eastern Montana.

“It’s an old, very, very dirty pant – the biggest source of climate pollution in the western United States,”says Josh Nelson is with CREDO Action, which has joined forces with the Sierra Club on this issue. “The pollution from this plant has been making local residents sick for decades. And it even affects air quality as far away as Yellowstone National Park.”

He says they now have more than 5,000 signatures on a petition demanding an end to the utility’s reliance on coal.

Puget Sound Energy says Colstrip has been updated since its construction in the 1970s and '80s and  is now actually one of the cleanest coal-fired power generators in the U.S.  Its size is what makes it such a big polluter.

PSE spokesman Grant Ringel says coal is still part of the utility’s portfolio because it’s reliable and affordable. It costs about half as much as any other energy source out there.

 “The Colstrip resource actually produces by far the cheapest electricity that PSE’s generating plants produce." Ringel says. "And that’s an important component, especially in these tough economic times.”

He says PSE knows many of its customers prefer clean energy. About 30,000 pay extra each month for green energy offsets that are invested in renewable resources.

But until better technologies come to market to make it possible to store solar and wind power, he says Puget Sound Energy is unlikely to divest from coal and natural gas.