SEATTLE — Washington lawmakers say they want to study the impacts of closing a massive coal-fired power plant in southeastern Montana that provides power to the Northwest.
Senate Bill 5874 was initially written to make it easier for owners of the four-unit plant in Colstrip, Mont., to shut that plant down, prompting letters of concern from Montana’s governor and the state’s utility commission.
But the Senate amended and passed the bill Wednesday night to call for a study on the costs and benefits of a possible closure. It now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration, where those wanting to wean Washington state off coal hope it can be amended again.
Bill sponsor Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, said Thursday that Senate members felt they didn’t have all the information they needed.
“I heard from lots of people in Montana and Washington concerned about rushing into a decision that doesn’t need to be made today,” said Ericksen, who chairs the Senate Energy, Environment & Telecommunications Committee.
Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, urged support on the Senate floor, saying it would keep the legislation alive so more work can be done in the House.
Ranker has said the state has “a moral imperative” to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions and wean itself off coal that is exported into the state.
The Sierra Club said it hoped changes to the bill can be made in the House that will lead to retiring Colstrip, a large source of carbon pollution, and replacing that coal power with cleaner, renewable energy.
That’s what troubled Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, one of three senators who opposed the bill.
“This leaves this bill open to all kinds of mischiefs over in the House, the other body, and just because it’s a study here doesn’t mean it’ll come back a study,” he said before Wednesday’s vote.
The legislation comes as investor-owned utilities operating in Washington have been under pressure from Gov. Jay Inslee and environmental groups to reduce or eliminate electricity they get from out-of-state coal plants.
Washington’s only coal power plant in Centralia is slated to close by 2025. Much of the state’s coal-fired electricity comes into the state from the Colstrip plant in Montana, and the Jim Bridger plant in Wyoming.
Senate Bill 5874 does not specifically name Colstrip, but it would apply.
Last month, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock wrote to Inslee and senators, expressing concerns that the bill would have significant impact on his state.
The Democrat said he agreed that climate change is a serious issue, but “I have grave concerns when one state takes action that could have significant economic consequences for another state, on a matter that will require action on a much larger scale to be successful.”
Last week, Montana’s utility commission also expressed concerns that Washington would take action without consulting with policymakers in their state. The commissioners’ letter to state Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien, urged lawmakers to collaborate with Montana and others in the region.
Bellevue-based Puget Sound Energy is the largest owner of Colstrip. PPL Montana operates the facility on behalf of six owners, including Avista and PacifiCorp. A PSE official told lawmakers last month that Puget could acquire an additional interest in Colstrip with the ultimate goal of shutting it down.
Meanwhile, a Montana lawmaker plans to introduce a measure to the Legislature next week requiring any company that shuts down a coal plant to pay annual fees of two times the plant’s taxable value for 10 years.