Energy Company Reveals Plan to Power Northwest with Dirty Coal for Next 20 Years
Yesterday, Puget Sound Energy (PSE) released its final Integrated Resource Plan that maintains the Northwest region’s reliance on coal for another generation. PSE is the largest owner of the outdated, dirty coal plant in Colstrip, MT, and generates about 30 percent of its electricity from the plant and other increasingly-expensive coal sources.
Calling on PSE to invest in clean energy solutions as well as Washington communities, the Sierra Club and community partners barged an inflatable coal plant with a sign reading “PLEASE PSE, RETIRE COAL. INVEST IN CLEAN ENERGY” surrounded by “Clean Energy” kayaks. These images served as a backdrop to a press conference where local leaders and concerned residents spoke out against the utility's continued practice of burning coal to power Washington.
“While PSE supports many clean-energy programs, it also owns the largest, most polluting coal-fired power plant in the Northwest,” said Doug Howell of the Sierra Club. “Right now, PSE has a momentous opportunity to invest in clean energy and create good jobs in Washington State by moving beyond coal. Instead of continuing to rely on this toxic fossil fuel, which harms people’s health and the environment, it’s time for PSE to completely replace coal with cleaner forms of energy."
The movement to help PSE transition from coal to clean energy has recently galvanized Washingtonians who see costly coal pollution as standing in the way of much needed local clean energy jobs and a sustainable energy infrastructure. Residents say that PSE’s plan for another 20 years of coal fired pollution from its coal plant should serve as a wake up call to take immediate action.
“Our future does not lie in old, dirty coal-fired power, but in making homes more sustainable, lowering electricity bills, and creating a wave of innovation in the wind and solar industries,” said Dave Asher, a Kirkland, WA, city council member. “As we upgrade our buildings and invest in new sources of energy, we can create jobs, stimulate new businesses, and create a diverse and safe energy future.”
More than 150 coal plants across the country, including the Northwest’s TransAlta and Boardman plants, are on a path to retirement as the U.S. moves away from its reliance on coal. This has opened up the doors to a flood of clean energy investment and a new era of healthy air and clean power.
“PSE’s final recommendation puts ratepayers at risk because its coal plant is riddled with potential liabilities,” said Eric de Place of Sightline Institute. “PSE’s customers could find themselves facing more costs for addressing public health concerns, complying with clean air laws and reducing carbon emissions.”
Activists from all around PSE’s territory joined in yesterday’s event. Annie Newcomb, an activist from Issaquah, WA, says that in the next few years, PSE will be faced with increasing costs for pollution controls at its aging coal plant. “They, and we, have a choice to make—dump hundreds of millions of dollars of our hard-earned money into an outdated coal plant, or invest in clean energy jobs here in the Northwest,” said Newcomb.
Chiara D'Angelo, a high-school student from Bainbridge Island, says that the threat of climate disruption concerns many of her friends and classmates, and she worries about what the future will look like if the problem worsens. “This coal plant is a huge contributor to climate change, an urgent threat to our families, communities and to future generations. The cost of climate change impacts is too great to ignore. I expect my PSE to create a more sustainable future,” said D’Angelo.
The group urged local residents to make sure their voices are heard by sending comments to the Utility and Transportation Commission to call for a true assessment of costs for PSE’s coal consumption. The public comment process commenced yesterday with the release of PSE’s Integrated Resource Plan.
Visit EcoWatch’s COAL page for more related news on this topic.
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By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:email@example.com" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
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