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Islanders ask PSE to go coal free

Ethan Hytopoulos, Erika Shriner, Wendy Jones, Theo Hytopoulos, Chiara D’Angelo,  Tim Wentzel, Diane Landry, Dusty Collings stand on the corner of Winslow Way and  Highway 305 to spread the word that Bainbridge is coal-powered.  - Michael Hytopoulos photo
Ethan Hytopoulos, Erika Shriner, Wendy Jones, Theo Hytopoulos, Chiara D’Angelo, Tim Wentzel, Diane Landry, Dusty Collings stand on the corner of Winslow Way and Highway 305 to spread the word that Bainbridge is coal-powered.
— image credit: Michael Hytopoulos photo

They braved the cold morning warmed by their motivation to get their message heard: No more coal on Bainbridge Island.

Coal Free Bainbridge held its first demonstration Tuesday on the corner of Winslow Way and Highway 305, a prime spot to be seen by islanders headed on their morning commute. The group plans to be out on the corner each Tuesday until Earth Day on April 22. It’s the most visible action the group has taken since forming last spring to highlight the fact that coal is powering Bainbridge.

“We decided that we needed to get a group active around this issue, the first thing we need to do is educate the island about where their energy is coming from,” said Erika Shriner, co-chairwoman of Coal Free Bainbridge.

Coal Free Bainbridge is a local movement to not only educate islanders about where their power comes from, but to also sway Puget Sound Energy to stop using coal in its power plants.

“We are part of the Sierra Club’s Coal Free PSE Campaign, which is part of the national Beyond Coal campaign,” Shriner said.

The activist group began last spring and has visited the island’s farmers market and other local events. They even created a character, Coal Man, who walks around town drawing attention to the issue.

“He’s the bad guy in the story,” Shriner said. “He’s Mr. Coal. He pollutes and he’s wrecking our climate.”

The group has been busy making others aware of the Bellevue-based utility’s reliance on coal.

“We have also reached out to churches and so far six local churches have signed on and are in the process of contacting PSE asking that coal be discontinued and replaced with clean, renewable energy,” she added.

The fuel source is known for the health risks it poses to the respiratory, cardiovascular and nervous systems, in addition to accelerating climate change.

The main target of Coal Free Bainbridge is the Colstrip power plant in Montana. The power plant has made headlines as a considerable polluter and producer of greenhouse emissions. It is the largest plant of its kind in the western United States.

The plant, owned by five companies that include Puget Sound Energy, settled a $25 million lawsuit in 2008 after it was discovered to be polluting the water supplies of nearby residential areas.

Shriner noted that the plant faces seven more lawsuits.

Despite the fact Puget Sound Energy is the largest owner of the plant, Shriver said that most islanders she has spoken with were not aware that the island is powered largely by coal.

“Most of them thought it was primarily hydro,” Shriver said.

“Here we are on this beautiful green sustainable island, and we find out that a third of our electricity is coming from the dirtiest coal plant in the west,” she added. “We can hardly be called a sustainable island when every time we turn on our lights or do a load of wash, we are burning coal.”

“Coal is responsible for lung disease, asthma, heart disease and climate change and none of us should be comfortable with that fact,” Shriner said.

The activist group has collected 8,000 signatures asking Puget Sound Energy to refrain from using coal in its power mix.

The petition was sent to the utility’s CEO Kimberly Harris.

The next effort is to gather even more signatures for a memorandum intended for William Ayer, chairman of the board for Puget Sound Energy.

“We are the consumers, we ought to have some kind of say about where our energy comes from,” Shriner said. “Not only is it dirty and dangerous, it is too expensive.”

“Eventually that expense is going to be reflected in our rates,” she added.

Shriner said that the group doesn’t intend to halt its efforts until coal is out of Bainbridge Island’s energy mix.

“We can have the most sustainable island that there is,” Shriner said. “But unless we take responsibility for this larger issue of climate change, we are facing a pretty scary future. It doesn’t stop at our shores.”

Shriver said that interested islanders can find more information about the coal free effort at www.coalfreepse.com or by emailing coalfreebainbridge@gmail.com.

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