The Montana coal plants are owned by Puget Sound Energy.

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The agency that regulates Washington utilities is exploring how much it would cost to close two coal plants in Colstrip, Mont., that supply electricity to Puget Sound Energy.

“We want to be sure we know what costs Puget Sound Energy’s customers may face when the day comes for these older units to close,” said the state’s Utilities and Transportation Commission chairman David Danner in a news release.

Puget Sound Energy owns half of the two 1970s-built plants along with a Pennsylvania company. The coal plants are the second-largest west of the Mississippi River, according to Puget Sound Energy. About 360 people work there, according to the utility’s website.

Washington has been slowly phasing out coal. In 2006, Canadian company TransAlta closed the state’s last coal mine — 550 jobs went with it. The company continued to import coal from other states for use in its power plant. But not more much longer. In 2011, TransAlta agreed to stop burning coal in Centralia,  the state’s last coal-fire power plant. By 2025, both of its burners will stop firing coal.

But Washingtonians still rely heavily on coal for power. Second only to hydropower, coal generates nearly 15 percent of the state’s electricity. It generates the majority of CO2 emissions, too — nearly 73 percent.

(Washington Department of Commerce)
(Washington Department of Commerce)

In 2013, coal provided nearly a third of Puget Sound Energy’s electricity.

The Washington state Legislature this session heard several bills on transitioning away from coal or retiring plants. None passed.

In 2013 ,Washington consumed more than 4.5 million short tons of coal, which equates to more than half a ton per person. Thirty-eight states consumed more per capita.