Proposal to prematurely close Centralia power plant not based on economic or environmental reality

Special to The Olympian (published 2/19/11)


The Olympian’s recent editorial regarding the future of TransAlta’s coal-fired electrical plant in Centralia demands a level-headed response free from the clouded rhetoric of extreme environmentalism and political correctness.

First of all, let’s all agree clean air and water are a necessity for those of us living in the region now and for generations to come. That fact is beyond dispute and the continuing goal of cleaning up our environment is something we all share to some degree or another.

However, the recent proposal to shut down the electrical plant in Centralia is based more on Pollyanna environmental policy than realistic expectations; more on extremist views from out-of-town special interests than community or state leaders; and more on political paybacks than sound economic strategy.

The coal portion of TransAlta’s plant is in the process of being phased out by 2025, and being replaced by natural gas. In addition, the company has already spent more than $300 million in pollution controls which remove 99 percent of particulate matter, 98 percent of sulfur dioxides, 50 percent of nitrous oxide and, by 2012, 50 percent of mercury from its emissions. Opponents don’t like to admit it, but the Centralia plant is one of the cleanest coal generation plants in the United States.

The Centralia plant also accounts for about 8 percent of the state’s total power generation. This is reliable, baseload power. Our energy grid continues to rely more and more on alternative power, such as wind, solar and Biofuels. As such, the need for baseload power – power that is consistent and reliable, not based on the weather or other unpredictable factors – becomes more important.

The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) says without the consistent baseload energy provided by the TransAlta plant, the energy grid will become unstable. Those who have proposed to kill the Centralia plant have offered no solutions to keep the lights on in Washington.

And what about the 300 families that would be put out of work? These are family-wage jobs we’re talking about. Workers at the Centralia plant average around $85,000 a year. These jobs are Lewis County’s version of Snohomish County’s Boeing employees. The impact to the local economy would be devastating, especially at a time when so many are already out of work. The trickle-down effect of these job losses could very well push the region into a vicious economic tailspin which could take years to recover.

We also need to examine Washington’s overall greenhouse gas emissions. Our state is accountable for less than three-tenths of one percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Of that, the transportation sector emits the most, accounting for about 45 percent of the state’s total.

When you take all the factors into account, the proposal to eliminate the Centralia power plant smells too much like the politics of pleasing a particularly small but vocal special interest – jobs, our energy grid and our economy be damned.

The Olympian editorial board, which previously had been a strong supporter of the Lewis County steam plant, had an opportunity to voice strong opposition to this nonsensical proposal. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

This is a time to rise up and stand by our local community and the families whose lives would be thrust into turmoil should the plant be forced to close its doors. Our hope is that cooler, more realistic heads prevail and this bill dies a deserved death in the Legislature. And we will do all within our power to make that happen.


(Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Olympia, represents the 20th Legislative District which includes the Centralia power plant. Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy, is the ranking Republican on the House Environment Committee.)


Washington State House Republican Communications