UPDATE: The senate passed the bill this afternoon, 36-13

State Sen. Phil Rockefeller (D-23, Bainbridge Island) offered a  new version of his TransAlta bill today. His "striker" reflects a deal that was struck over the last several days between environmentalists and TransAlta, which runs a controversial coal powered electricity plan in Centralia—the number one single source greenhouse gas culprit in the sate: The company will close one coal boiler by 2020 and a second by 2025. And the Centralia plant will have to meet a schedule of emissions reductions along the way.

Republican Sen. Dan Swecker (R-20, Rochester), whose district includes Centralia, has signed off on the new version.

Perhaps the biggest news, though: The company has agreed to pay $55 million into an economic development fund starting in 2012 to help transition the community; the plant currently has 300 employees.

"It's progress," says Rep. Marko Liias (D-21, Edmonds), sponsor of an earlier, stronger, house version, which initially came with a $94 million fund (and ended the company's $5 million annual tax break), but was replaced by Sen. Rockefeller's original, neutered senate version, which kept the tax break in place and came without a clear transition fund or shutdown date. (Liias had initially wanted the coal operation shut down by 2015, but later went with 2020.) Despite Liias' bill's hefty community transition fund, plant workers showed up in full force to protest that bill last month because of the quicker shutdown timeline.

However, Liias likes the upgraded Rockefeller bill.

“Clean air and water have always been my top priority," Liias said in a statement today. "And this compromise goes a long way toward protecting our environment and preserving good jobs.  I’m glad to see TransAlta has agreed to this solution, which will provide $55 million towards the local community and economy.”

Washington Environmental Council lobbyist Cliff Traisman says, "We have an agreement. It's a win for the environment and the public. It's a win for the community. And it's a win for the public."


Gov. Chris Gregoire just sent out a statement about the deal. (Gregoire's office had been in official negotiations with TransAlta to phase out coal by 2025, but those formal talks ended last year without resolution. Informal discussions, with the Liias and Rockefeller bills acting as an incentive for the company to work out a deal, resumed this year.)

Gregoire said:
This compromise promises cleaner air for our future, while providing the necessary time to ensure economic stability, job protection and enough power on the grid to keep our homes and businesses running. I encourage the Legislature to take timely action to ensure this agreement moves forward.

The statement also summarized Sen. Rockefeller's new bill:

  • TransAlta will be allowed in the interim to sell coal power under long-term contracts within Washington – which will give the company the financial stability needed to transition to a cleaner source of energy;

  • The plant’s two coal boilers will meet the state’s emissions performance standard for new and modified power plants, which will require the boilers to shut down. The standard will apply to one boiler on Dec. 31, 2020, and to the other boiler on Dec. 31, 2025 – essentially ending coal-fired power in Washington state in the next 14 years;

  • In 2013, TransAlta will install additional air pollution control technology to further reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides at the plant. This technology is called selective non-catalytic reduction (SNCR). The TransAlta plant is the state’s largest single industrial source of nitrogen oxide emissions. Nitrogen oxides are one of the causes of visibility-limiting regional haze in national parks and on federal lands; and

  • TransAlta agrees to contribute $30 million in a community investment fund to help with energy efficiency projects, as well as $25 million in an energy technology transition fund, which must be spent on supporting innovative energy technologies and companies in Washington state.

And from President and CEO of Canadian-based TransAlta, Stephen Snyder: “We’re pleased to see all parties agree on legislation that balances the interests of jobs, the economy, energy and the environment. This legislation meets our commitment to a low-carbon future through transition from coal to gas in Washington, significantly reduces our environmental risk and allows us to provide fair shareholder value through favorable long-term contracts while protecting jobs and the economy of the local community.”

Gregoire's press release also included a quote from the Sierra Club, which has been campaigning for years to phase TransAlta's Centralia plant off of coal.
“This is a giant step forward toward a healthier and safer Washington, free from coal,” said Bruce Nilles, Deputy Conservation Director with the Sierra Club.  “We are leaving coal pollution in the past as we continue building the clean energy economy of today.  We thank the Governor, TransAlta, Sen. Rockefeller, Rep. Liias, the people of Lewis County and the Environmental Priorities Coalition for their efforts in achieving this historic agreement.”

Here is the original post I published on Friday afternoon before the deal was public:

We could have a serious Friday Afternoon Jolt coming up here. We are hearing from multiple sources that an agreement between environmentalists and TransAlta is imminent.

Legislation is in play this session to phase TransAlta's controversial electricity plant (the number one single-point greenhouse gas culprit in the state) off coal. The timing of the phase-out and a community transition fund for public works projects have been sticking points.

Ironically, after a tougher shutdown bill—including a $94 million transition fund (to begin ASAP)—got killed in the house by TransAlta and anxious community members concerned about the nearly 300 jobs, a more conservative senate version (no hard dates and an ill-defined community fund starting in eight years) caused local leaders, including the Executive Director of the Lewis County Economic Development Council, to change their tune and urge senators to tack back to the house approach.

I'll report back when I have more details.
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