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Coal-fired Power Plants in Governor's Crosshairs

Another round is beginning in the fight over clean-energy versus cheap-energy in the northwest. Washington Governor Jay Inslee is arm-twisting utilities - including Avista - to wean themselves off coal-generated power over the next several years.

The governor has signed an executive order directing state agencies to negotiate with utilities to phase out electricity produced by burning coal. Right now Washington gets only about 14 percent of its power from coal, but Governor Inslee wants it down to zero, saying the state has a moral responsibility to ameliorate climate change. Moreover, Inslee said coal produces about 80 percent of the state's greenhouse gas emissions.

But three big private utilities - Avista, Puget Sound Energy and Pacific Power, all say coal plants are reliable - unlike wind - cost-effective and part of a diverse power-generating portfolio. And for now, coal will be part of  their long-range plans.

Avista owns 15 percent of two coal-fired generating units in big eastern Montana coal power plant, and utility executives say that's a good value for its 358-thousand electric customers in eastern Washington and northern Idaho. To replace the power from the Colstrip Montana plant would cost consumers about 50-million dollars more a year.

But environmental groups cite EPA data which suggest the plant spewed out more than 13-million tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in 2012.

Washington State's only coal-fired power generation plant, Canadian-owned TransAlta in Centralia Washington, will be converted to natural gas by 2025.