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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Closure of three coal-fired power plants will shrink region’s carbon footprint

The closures of three coal-fired power plants will significantly shrink the Northwest’s carbon footprint by 2035, according to a regional forecast.

Carbon emissions from the Northwest’s electric use will drop from about 55 million metric tons annually to 34 million metric tons as utilities close down coal plants in Centralia, Washington; Boardman, Oregon; and Valmy, Nevada, over the next two decades. The projections, which are part of the draft Northwest Power Plan, also assume that the region will continue on a path of aggressive energy efficiency to reduce new demand.

“Coal produces about 12 to 15 percent of the electricity used in the Northwest, but it’s responsible for 85 percent of the carbon emissions,” said Tom Eckman, director of power planning for the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. “It’s a prime target when you look at what you can do to reduce carbon emissions.”

Every five years, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council prepares regional projections to plan for future energy needs. Most of the Northwest’s electricity comes from hydroelectric dams, with a smaller portion coming from coal, natural gas, wind and solar.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee also asked the council to calculate the carbon reduction if all coal plants selling electricity into the Northwest shut down over the next 20 years, and the least efficient natural gas-fired plants were retired. Under that scenario, two more coal plants would close: the Jim Bridger plant in Wyoming and the Colstrip plant in Montana, which is partly owned by Avista Corp.

The Northwest’s carbon emissions from electric use would drop about 80 percent from today’s levels to about 12 million metric tons annually. However, the more-aggressive carbon reduction strategy would cost an extra $20 billion over the next 20 years, according to the draft plan.

Under the first scenario, with three coal plants closing, the Northwest will be able to meet new federal regulations for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, Eckman said. The draft plan assumes that less polluting gas-fired turbines will replace the coal plants, and new energy efficiencies will save about 4,500 average megawatts of electricity by 2035.

That’s enough electricity to serve four cities the size of Seattle and it represents a 25 percent reduction in the region’s electric load growth. Eckman expects the Northwest to hit that target through more efficient lighting, advances in heating and air conditioning and industries becoming more efficient to reduce their energy bills.

The draft plan will be discussed at a Thursday hearing in Spokane. Public comments can be submitted through Dec. 18.

“The power plan goes a long way toward determining how clean and how affordable our electricity will be in the next five to 20 years,” said Marc Krasnowsky, communications director for the Northwest Energy Coalition, an alliance of environmental, civic and business organizations.

The coalition particularly endorses the target of reducing electric consumption by 4,500 megawatts in the plan.

“It means lower bills for everyone and less pollution,” Krasnowsky said.