Editor’s Note: Kevin Jones has been instrumental in islanders’ activism regarding Puget Sound Energy. This is his first-person account of an important hearing last week.
By KEVIN JONES
For The Beachcomber
With freezing temperatures, sunny skies and the threat of snow, 40 Vashon residents attended the 2017 Puget Sound Energy (PSE) Integrated Resource Plan hearing last Wednesday to talk about climate change and carbon pollution. The hearing room was packed. Over 200 like-minded people, from across the PSE service area and Montana, the home of the PSE coal burning power plants, spent six hours testifying to the three Washington Utilities and Transportation commissioners about our future.
Every two years the electric utility develops a 20-year plan for review by the commission. This year is unique. With a settlement requiring two of the Colstrip Montana coal plants to close in four years and the other two approaching end of life, a replacement decision is needed. With wholesale federal government abandonment of environment and climate change objectives, the gathered students, mothers, activists and elected officials asked PSE to shut down all four coal plants by 2025, removing the equivalent of 3.7 million cars from the nation’s roads forever.
Overwhelmingly, Vashon residents want to put coal in the rear-view mirror as soon as possible. They are choosy about the future and have a clear vision. Fossil fuel solutions are not OK. Conservation and renewable energy solutions, like wind and solar power, are. That message was clearly and compassionately delivered and not lost on the commissioners.
Those who attended were treated to a litany of well-conceived, passionate and creative requests for a carbon-free future. Perhaps the biggest take-away is the clear view that PSE presented a mainly business-as-usual plan, with some excursions into battery-based electric storage and some energy efficiency improvements. Islander Michael Laurie was one of those who attended last week, and found PSE’s plan lacking.
“Listening to PSE this morning, it sounds like their big plan is to install one battery,” he said.
That was in stark contrast to the testifiers’ sense of urgency. “Time is not our friend,” in various forms, was heard from many.
Another insight was the caution that PSE applies to renewable energy solutions, taking care to acquire and test now well-established technologies such as battery storage. Yet, the PSE Liquid Natural Gas Facility in Tacoma is proceeding at full steam ahead, despite lack of all required permits. The irony was clearly apparent.
Islanders’ testimony has been refined over the last 13 months by the Vashon Climate Action Group Carbon-Free campaign team. At an inauspicious start, the first meeting of 13 islanders more than a year ago led to the question, “How can PSE ratepayers move the utility away from coal?”
After months of asking PSE that question, without an answer, the carbon-free team discovered other groups working to close the PSE coal plants in Montana.
Since then over 850 Vashon residents have endorsed the resulting campaign — close Colstrip by 2025 and replace it with conservation and 100 percent renewable energy. Over 100 Vashon businesses added their voice. Five Vashon faith groups endorsed the plan. This base of support, both essential and motivating, propelled the carbon-free Vashon team forward.
That theme prevailed last Wednesday, where the only pro-coal comment was delivered as a spoof. Commission Chairman David Danner stated at the end of the hearing, “I don’t want to speak for the other commissioners, but I sensed a theme.”
The comment was received with considerable laughter.
What’s next? The commissioners will take a couple of months to evaluate all the comments and testimony. In all, there were thousands of comments submitted and over 100 people who talked at the hearing. The commissioners are expected to release their conclusions this spring.
The final report will not contain a clear “yes” or “no” answer to how the coal plants will be replaced.
The report is expected to contain clear statements about what Colstrip replacement is appropriate or not appropriate. After all, PSE can spend our money any way they want, but the commissioners only allow them to recoup that expense if it produces safe, available, reliable and fairly priced electricity.
What will the carbon-free campaign team do? They will review the final report, determine how likely a carbon-free Colstrip replacement will be and make plans accordingly. Based on the hearing, and the ever-lower price of renewable energy, a carbon-free future is more and more likely. This is the desired solution, requested by hundreds of PSE customers, all speaking clearly with this outcome in mind.