Washingtonians don’t want more dirty-fuel energy plants, and they definitely don’t want to pay TransAlta to build a new fossil fuel plant in Centralia.
In the closing days of the legislative session, Washington state lawmakers published a set of must-pass bills — a budget intended to avert a government shutdown, an education reform bill, and a revenue package to pay for it all. These bills — thousands of pages’ worth of them — were introduced, discussed and passed in less than 24 hours. Legislators literally voted under cover of night.
This is no way to write and pass a budget, but it is an effective way to sneak in massive fossil fuel subsidies. Buried in the middle of one bill was a new sales and use tax exemption for TransAlta, a Canadian company that earned $1.8 billion last year, to convert its Centralia coal plant to natural gas. TransAlta would be the only company eligible to take advantage of this state largesse, meaning that other companies that want to do business in Washington have to compete with one that is, for some reason, subsidized by taxpayers.
The proposed tax break was not good for Washington — and in fact, TransAlta advocates have tried to pass versions of this subsidy for years, including twice this session. Those efforts died every time. The only way to get this unnecessary giveaway through was to slip it inside a last-minute bill and then dare lawmakers to choose between doubling down on fossil fuels or send the state careening off a budget cliff. For many, it proved an impossible choice.
Fortunately, it was a choice Gov. Jay Inslee didn’t have to make. He rejected this nonsense by vetoing the TransAlta portion of this bill, keeping Washington on track to achieve our climate goals and protect our clean energy future.
The simple truth is we don’t need to build more facilities to burn natural gas or any other fossil fuel. Just 35 miles west of this plant lies another gas giant built less than 10 years ago without any state subsidy. It runs half the time because there just isn’t demand for the energy it can generate. Trans-Alta used to have a fossil gas generator in Centralia — before it took it apart and sold it in pieces three years ago.
Washington’s electricity rates are the second lowest in the country and we’re the largest producer of clean, renewable energy — mostly from hydropower, but also from wind and other sources. That’s not a coincidence — most of our utilities aren’t constantly buying more fracked gas or fossil fuels, the costs of which is then passed on to customers. We pay less for electricity because water, wind and sun are free and abundant.
About three-quarters of our electricity is already carbon free. That means that a 100 percent clean electrical grid is within our reach. (Did you know that traveling a given distance in an electric vehicle costs less than one-third the cost of a gasoline trip?)
Not only will we save money by accelerating a clean energy transition, we’ll also save our home. The governor’s office in May released a study that shows how Washington can achieve reductions in greenhouse gas pollution consistent with what science demands of us. Each of the three pathways the researches tried required us to reduce dramatically our reliance on fossil fuel gas as an energy source.
Clean energy alternatives are all around us; not only wind and solar, but non-fossil fuel gas sources like biogas emitted from landfills, dairies, and wastewater treatment plants. Such solutions are within reach. They’re going to save us money, support family-wage jobs and help avoid the most devastating impacts of climate change. Why would the Legislature try to put our money into pushing this future further away?
Six years ago, Climate Solutions and a range of environmental partners made a deal with Trans-Alta to close the state’s last coal-fired plant. That was the deal, and there won’t be another. We have no interest in extending our reliance on fossil fuels, especially fracked gas.
Washingtonians don’t want more dirty fuel, and they definitely don’t want to pay TransAlta to build a new fossil fuel plant. Over the years our state has fought back against numerous coal and oil proposals and won. If TransAlta wants to build this gas plant in our backyard, we’ll fight back against that, too.