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Activists, Officials Demand Colstrip Closure Date

Power plant at Colstrip, MT.
Beth Saboe
The Colstrip Power Plant consists of four separate coal-fired generating units, collectively owned by Puget Sound Energy, Talen Energy, Avista Corporation, PacifiCorp and NorthWestern Energy.

Climate change activists and elected officials in Washington state are criticizing Puget Sound Energy's new long-range power generation plan. They say the utility isn't moving fast enough toward 100 percent renewable energy sources. That includes stating definitively that Puget Sound will shut down the Colstrip electricity plant in 2025.

Nathanial Jones, the mayor pro tem of Olympia, Washington, says rising sea levels due to climate change threaten billions of dollars worth of development in his city.

"My city sits on the shores of Puget Sound, the Salish Sea," said Jones. "Today Olympia is facing the existential threat of frequent and severe flooding in our downtown and our port terminal."

Jones is part of a campaign to move one of the northwest's largest utilities, Puget Sound Energy, to 100 percent carbon free power sources. Puget Sound Energy is part owner of the Colstrip coal-fired electricity plant.

Doug Howell with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign says getting a closure date for Colstrip is a top priority.

"We've secured the retirement of the smaller units one and two," said Howell. "Now Puget must nail down a date for retirement of units three and four, to enable the Colstrip community to prepare for the inevitable retirement of Colstrip."

Colstrip residents are fighting closure of the plant, and see an ongoing need for coal-fired electricity in the future, but Seattle city councilman Mike O'Brien says people and businesses in Washington state are only demanding more carbon-free energy.

"Climate threat is real," said O'Brien. "We need to take action. We have the people that are demanding this, we have elected officials that are ready to do it, and we need our corporate partners, specifically our utility companies to be partnering with us to make that transition."

Earlier this year Puget Sound Energy agreed to set aside $10 million to help people in Colstrip transition away from coal.

Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.
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