October 09, 2014
On October 8, some 30 Sierra Club volunteers and four staffers with the Club's Beyond Coal campaign delivered more than 10,000 petitions to Puget Sound Energy's legislative office in Olympia, urging PSE to replace the coal power in its portfolio with clean energy such as wind and solar and efficiency measures that would create thousands of jobs in the Pacific Northwest.
Prior to delivering the petitions, the activists held a press conference in the Legislative Rotunda at the state capitol, below, where they presented a report card grading PSE on its current energy portfolio. The utility's marks were generally high, but it received an "F" for coal, as more than 30 percent of its electricity supply comes from the Colstrip coal-burning power plant in Montana, the Northwest's largest source of carbon pollution. PSE is the primary owner of the Colstrip plant.
"We're fortunate to have Puget Sound Energy as a strong community partner that has supported incentives for homes, businesses, and government offices to save electricity," said Beyond Coal senior campaign representative Doug Howell. "Now we're asking PSE take the next step in its energy leadership by replacing dirty coal with clean energy and efficiency."
Governor Jay Inslee has laid out a climate plan for Washington, and transitioning away from out-of-state coal electricity -- what he calls "coal-by-wire" -- is among his priorities. Inslee signed his Climate Action Plan on the back of a solar panel at a signing ceremony in April, saying the state has a moral responsibility to act on climate change.
PSE has been responsive in developing an ever-cleaner energy portfolio, but it continues to draw power from Colstrip, maintaining that coal-fired electricity is reliable and cost-effective. "As one of Colstrip's owners, PSE could be liable for its carbon pollution, groundwater contamination, and toxic, leaking coal ash ponds," Howell said. "Moving beyond coal is a smart investment for Northwest families and PSE alike."
PSE is now planning the next 20 years of electricity delivery, but the Sierra Club report card gave the utility an "Incomplete" due to uncertainty about whether it will replace coal power with clean energy.
"PSE can either continue investing in old-fashioned, dirty, and increasingly expensive out-of-state coal plants, or in clean, renewable wind, solar, and efficiency that creates family-wage jobs," said Club organizer Seth Ballhorn. "Washington has abundant clean, affordable energy resources and a tradition of innovation and leadership and sustainability. It's time for PSE to join us in transitioning beyond coal."
Also speaking was Bob Guenther, a longtime union representative with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The Club and labor-affiliated groups share a strong commitment to ensuring that Washington's coal-to-clean-energy transition creates good family-wage jobs for Northwest workers.
"Good family living jobs will come with solar, wind, and efficiency," Guenther said. "We'd like PSE to look into these alternative ways to produce energy in the Northwest. IBEW will help provide a world-class workforce."
Photos by Meg Matthews.