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Coal fired: The future of Centralia

col fired testimony
Coal fired testimony at House Environment/capture from TVW

The big hearing at Olympia today is centered on a subject of largest interest about 45 minutes south – at Centralia. But it’s a very big deal in Centralia: There, among other things, it means jobs. The bill (House Bill 1825) calls for phasing out coal-fired plants – it sets up an institutionalized structure for it – in Washington, and the one significant one in Washington is at Centralia. There, Trans-Alta employs about 350 people.

The plant has been slated for operating generally as is through 2025, by which time it would transition from coal; the bill would considerably shorten that, to as early as 2015.

A number of them seem to have shown up at the House Environment Committee hearing on the bill, which was proposed by a group of mainly Seattle legislators (17 of them, including the Environment chair). A goodly number of backers were there too.

Politically, the majority Democratic constituencies were split: Environmental groups were among those in favor, but area labor unions were sharply critical. There were economic concerns (this could throw a block in the way of some electric power ramp-ups) and health concerns (climate change, and mercury emissions from the plant). The debate ranged from the industry’s environmental record to the substantial environmental improvements at this particular (albeit older) plant. The league of Women Voters favored the bill; so did young mother who has asthma.

One interesting set of stats grew out of the suggestion by proponents that if coal fire production had to be phased out, the transition of the plant to other uses might generate nearly comparable numbers of jobs. But the point didn’t seem to be explored in much depth during the hearing.

This could be among the more significant pieces of legislation this session. What will it mean economically? Maybe more discussion will follow.

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