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Avista resource plan outlines progress toward clean-energy goals, reducing reliance on Colstrip coal-fired plant

UPDATED: Wed., March 4, 2020

 (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
(Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Avista Utilities is making strides toward achieving Washington state clean-energy requirements by upgrading its hydroelectric and biomass facilities, and shifting toward wind and energy generation, according to the utility’s 2020 resource plan.

The 25-year integrated resource plan, or IRP, filed Friday with the Idaho Public Utility Commission, outlines the company’s goal to serve customers with 100% clean electricity by 2045 and have a carbon-neutral supply of electricity by 2027 through offsetting.

The plan also indicates Avista intends to add 500 megawatts of new wind generation within seven years and projects greenhouse gas emissions will be 80% below 2018 levels by 2030.

“This IRP reflects a significant reduction in fossil fuel generation for our customers,” Jason Thackston, senior vice president of energy resources for the Spokane-based utility, said in a statement.

Avista is required to update its 25-year resource plan every two years to indicate how it will meet future electric load growth. Customers, environmental organizations, business groups, elected officials and utility commission staff met several times to discuss the plan starting in mid-2018.

Avista and other utility companies in the state of Washington will no longer be allowed to distribute electricity from coal-fired generation after 2025 because of the Washington Clean Energy Transformation Act, or CETA.

The utility has not yet filed its resource plan in Washington because the state Utilities and Transportation Commission is in the rule-making process for the CETA. Once rule-making is complete by the end of 2020, Avista will file the resource plan as an advisory report, according to the company.

The 25-year plan also includes information about the utility’s 15% ownership of Units 3 and 4 of the coal-fired power plant in Colstrip, Montana. Avista is one of six owners of Units 3 and 4 at the plant, which produces 9% of the utility’s the company’s electricity output.

Colstrip is among the top greenhouse gas emitters in the West, producing about 16 million tons of carbon dioxide and other climate-warming gases each year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

For several years, environmental groups have called for Colstrip’s closure, including the Sierra Club.

Avista has agreed to accelerate exit plans for Colstrip Units 3 and 4 and stop supporting investments to extend the life of the plant by 2025 as part of the utility’s partial settlement agreement for its general rate case in Washington. The settlement would also require that Avista commit $3 million to assist the community of Colstrip in its transition out of an economic reliance on the coal-fired power plant.

Washington’s three-member Utilities and Transportation Commission will make a final decision on the settlement in the spring.

“While the fate of the Colstrip power plant will depend on a decision made by all owners of the facility, each of whom have their own economic circumstances, our current IRP indicates Avista’s most economic decision would be to exit Avista’s ownership in the plant by the end of 2025,” Thackston said in an email. “This is the best economic decision for all of our customers, regardless of state.”

Doug Howell of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign said it’s notable that Avista acknowledged that Colstrip is no longer economical for ratepayers in its 2020 plan.

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