BY ERIKA SHRINER
Most of us in this area don’t think too much about coal. Fortunately we don’t have to live next to a coal-burning plant or mining operation. We aren’t forced to look out onto vistas of a ravaged landscape, the result of strip mining, or have to worry that the water coming from our tap or the air we breathe has been polluted with toxic chemicals.
But in reality, every time we turn on a light in our homes, our schools or our businesses we are burning coal and become connected to a whole process that is unhealthy, polluting and doing immeasurable damage to our shared environment.
One-third of the power supplied by our local electric utility, Puget Sound Energy, comes from coal and a recent agreement signed with the TransAlta plant in Centralia may increase its coal exposure even more.
PSE doesn’t like to talk about coal. In fact, one is hard put to find any mention of coal on its website. Instead you’ll find lots of talk about “environmental stewardship,” “clean energy” and “commitment to environment.”
The only place I found the word “coal” is in the pie chart they are required to furnish which shows their fuel supply by type.
In the fine print above the chart, you learn that although PSE is a major producer of wind power, they actually sell all wind generated electricity to out-of-state utilities.
That coal comes from the Colstrip, Montana plant owned in part by PSE.
The Colstrip plant has been labeled the dirtiest coal plant and the single largest contributor to greenhouse gases in the West. In 2008, the plant paid $25 million to settle a lawsuit charging it with polluting the water of local residents. In July several environmental groups notified the Colstrip plant of their intention to sue the owners for violations of the Clean Air Act.
Certainly PSE’s three wind farms are a major step in the right direction as is its focus on energy efficiency. But with the mounting evidence of climate change, coal really has no place in our energy mix.
As ratepayers, we should be aware that the costs of retrofitting the Colstrip plant to meet current and proposed regulations could run into the hundreds of millions – a huge bill that ratepayers will likely be asked to pay for in rate increases. Investing further in a polluting and outmoded source of energy at a time when wind and solar costs are dropping dramatically just doesn’t compute.
At some point coal will be forced to pay its true cost - which would include health, environmental and climate change impacts.
As importantly, why should we settle for dirty energy from Montana when building and operating clean, renewable energy projects in Washington would create needed jobs and revenues?
At 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 7 you’ll have a chance to see “our” coal plant. David T. Hanson will present his highly acclaimed photographs of the Colstrip, Mont. coal operation at Islandwood.
Following Hanson’s presentation, a discussion will be held to outline practical alternatives to coal featuring Jimmy Jia of the Bainbridge Graduate Institute. The evening is sponsored by the Coal-Free Bainbridge Project supported by the Sierra Club and Positive Energy.
Whether or not our island continues to be powered by coal will, in a large measure, be determined by us. Given the facts and the determination, a community dedicated to sustainability can and should play a major role in moving PSE toward clean, renewable energy. Our inaction would only serve to guarantee a future that should alarm and sadden all of us.
For more information go to CoalFreePse.org. To become involved contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Erika Shriner is an environmental activist and currently co-chair of the Coal-Free Bainbridge Project.