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Washington State Law Eases Coal Plant Closing

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a bill into law (SB 5769) last Friday that establishes the phased closing of the state's major coal-fired electric generation plant and the development of a smaller, cleaner natural gas-fired plant in the interim. Executives from power plant operator TransAlta Corp. and the environmental and labor sectors joined Gregoire at the signing ceremony.

The new law represented a settlement under a collaborative agreement in which Calgary-based TransAlta will close two coal-fired boilers at its Centralia, WA plant state -- one in 2020 and the second in 2025. Separately, TransAlta has indicated that it plans to develop a natural gas-fired replacement generation plant in Lewis County near the coal plant.

"The agreement provides a path to cleaner power while allowing the necessary time to provide stability to the electrical grid and to the community in Lewis County, WA," a spokesperson for the governor's office said.

In March negotiations among state government officials, environmental groups and TransAlta culminated in passage Canada-based of SB 5769, which calls for TransAlta to phase out its 1,588 MW Big Hanaford coal plant (see Daily GPI, March 9). The bill was later passed by the state House of Representatives.

Calling the TransAlta plant at Centralia a long-time "critical part" of the local community, Gregoire said the state must build on the skills of the Big Hanaford plant operators to tap their "know-how to power our grid and our future," which the governor has dubbed Washington's "clean energy future." Two years earlier Gregoire signed an executive order directing the state Department of Ecology to work out an agreement with TransAlta to end coal-fired generation in the state by the end of 2025.

TransAlta CEO Steve Snyder said the state law will allow TransAlta "to continue powering this community with new investments in power production and new jobs."

The power plant operator will take several steps in advance of the coal-fired boiler shutdowns:

The latter should give TransAlta the "financial stability needed to transition to a cleaner source of energy," the governor's spokesperson said.

One of the state legislative leaders, Sen. Phil Rockefeller, said the new law will help provide benefits in power supplies, jobs, health and environmental matters.

A Sierra Club official, Bruce Nilles, deputy conservation director in the region, said the law is a "significant step closer to being truly free from coal in the Northwest."

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