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Two Puget Sound Energy coal plants closing earlier than expected

caption: The coal-fired Colstrip power plant in eastern Montana.
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The coal-fired Colstrip power plant in eastern Montana.

Two Puget Sound Energy coal plants will close in December because of financial challenges.

The two coal producing units are co-owned by PSE and Talen Energy and are part of the larger Colstrip, Montana power plant.

Puget Sound Energy, Washington's biggest electrical utility, gets an estimated 38 percent of its power from Colstrip's plants. That comes from four coal facilities, the oldest two of which are now set to close.

PSE's director of generation and natural gas storage, Ron Roberts, said they'll need to find a replacement for the power PSE will lose in December. He said it won't be coal.

"We would be looking primarily at hydro resources within the region, as well as we have a all-source request for proposals out to look at replacement power," Roberts said.

The two older coal plants were already mandated to close in 2020 due to a settlement from environmental lawsuits.

But Talen Montana announced Tuesday that these two units are no longer economically viable and it's closing them early.

The Sierra Club and other environmental groups are celebrating the news, and say the retiring coal operation should be replaced with wind farms. The Sierra Club argues that eastern Montana is prime territory for wind power, especially in windy winter months. That would be up to Colstrip's operators.

PSE will still buy coal from other parts of the Colstrip system that are staying open. By 2025, though, that will need to change.

PSE and all other public utilities in Washington are mandated to cut coal out of their supply by 2025 under a newly passed Washington state law.

PSE had already started searching for a new energy source, knowing the old plants would close in 2020 and that Washington's 2025 deadline looms. The utility already has a request for proposals out to energy producers.

"We are looking at those bids that came in for replacement power" Roberts said, "and seeing if any of those projects can be accelerated, and most of those would be renewables, if not all."

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