Rep. Marko Liias wants Washington to stop using coal, and he wants it to stop soon.
The Mukilteo Democrat introduced a bill Wednesday that would require the TransAlta power plant in Centralia, Washington’s only coal-fired electricity generator, to start using cleaner energy sources by Dec. 31, 2015, ten years earlier than it would have to under a 2009 executive order from Gov. Chris Gregoire.
“It frankly doesn’t fit our commitment at the state level to clean, renewable energy,” said Liias of coal-fired energy.
He said the purpose of his proposal, House Bill 1825, was to get legislators talking about coal power in the state and how to phase it out as quickly as possible. He said he wasn’t committed to the 2015 date if there were technical obstacles to meeting that deadline.
Ecology Department spokesman Seth Preston said cutting the state off coal would significantly cut air pollution and emissions of the greenhouse gases that lead to climate change.
“If you’re not burning coal, you’re not going to have that amount of airborne mercury going into the atmosphere and you’re not going to have that greenhouse gas pollution,” said Preston.
The TransAlta plant contributes about 10 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, giving off about 10 million metric tons of the gases per year, Preston said.
According to a January report by a group called Environment Washington, the Centralia plant also ranked 125th in the nation in 2009 in terms of mercury pollution, emitting 361 pounds of the toxic metal. In response, TransAlta said it would install technology to reduce its mercury emissions 50 percent by 2012.
TransAlta spokeswoman Angela Mallow said the plant was working on phasing out coal by 2025, the year set by the governor in a 2009 executive order, and moving the date up to 2015 was not feasible.
“From our viewpoint, we still need that time to protect jobs and provide a reliable energy supply,” said Mallow.
She said TransAlta was planning to get permits to build a natural gas fired plant, which would emit fewer greenhouse gases than the coal-fired facility and was looking at renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar as well, though the company had no firm plans to deploy those in Washington at this point.
Under the governor’s Executive Order 09-05, TransAlta must meet the state greenhouse gas emissions standards by Dec. 31, 2025. Under those rules, a power plant cannot emit more than 1,100 pounds of greenhouse gases per megawatt hour of electricity produced, a standard that rules out coal as an energy source.