Coal in Washington State: Past, Present, and Future
While Washington is best known for its abundant hydroelectricity and its growing base of wind capacity, coal also plays a role in its energy system. Washington has one coal-fired power plant at Centralia, WA. It imports considerable amounts of coal-generated electricity from Montana. This report summarizes the past, present, and future of coal in Washington State's energy picture. It tells the story, beginning in the 1970s, of the Big Hanaford coal-fired power plant with a capacity of 1,340 MW that was constructed near to an open pit coal mine in Centralia, WA. Sale and use tax exemptions encouraged the use of locally-mined coal, generating jobs and electricity for the region. The mine closed in 2006, but the power plant continued to operate with coal imported by rail from the Power River Basin. Interestingly, that coal continues to enjoy the tax relief that was originally intended to support Washington miners. Recently, a deal was struck with the owners of the plant to transition to natural gas. One turbine will transition by 2020, the second by 2025.
A history of Colstrip, Montana
The plentiful coal of southeastern Montana was originally eyed by the railways as a means to fuel locomotives in the early 20th Century. After a lull in demand caused by fuel shifting to diesel, the area saw demand skyrocket in the 1970s when Puget Sound Energy partnered with Montana Power Company to generate electricity and transmit it to Seattle.
This paper gives a concise history of the town of Colstrip, MT before delving into contemporary details about the shifting demand and interest in coal-fired electricity. It examines the contemporary legislative processes in both Washington and Montana, as Puget Sound Energy contemplates transitioning away from coal-based electricity.