Friday, April 29, 2011

Air Time: Governor signs historic deal at TransAlta

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Air Quality Program

Laughter and applause marked the signing of historic legislation today (Friday, April 29) at the TransAlta coal-fired power plant near Centralia.

Gov. Chris Gregoire inked ESSSB 5679 inside a large tent set up in the plant’s main parking lot. The legislation means eventually the state’s only coal-burning power plant will stop using coal, which will eliminate millions of tons of climate-changing greenhouse gases. It also will either eliminate or greatly reduce the emissions of other toxic air pollutants such as mercury.

Perhaps fittingly, the plant’s two coal-fired boilers did not appear to be operating during the ceremony. No steam came from its stacks. (The photo with this post was taken previously.)

The deal also ensures predictability for the company and its employees, and provides tens of millions of dollars for economic development and energy conservation efforts in Lewis County. The TransAlta operation is a key employer and corporate citizen in a county that routinely posts some of Washington’s highest unemployment numbers.

Here’s a news release from the Governor’s Office that provides some more specifics.

Hundreds of people – plant workers, TransAlta corporate officials, local community leaders, representatives of labor and environmental groups, and state lawmakers and agency representatives – witnessed the event. (I didn’t get an official count, but I heard overheard someone say more than 300 people had confirmed they would attend.

State Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-20th District, served as master of ceremonies. DeBolt, who also is the TransAlta plant’s external affairs director, set the theme of the day by stressing the remarkable collaboration that took place to get this deal done.

DeBolt and the other speakers – TransAlta CEO Steve Snyder; Sen. Phil Rockefeller, D-23rd District; Rep. Gary Alexander, R-20th District; and Bruce Nilles of the Sierra Club – emphasized the hard work done by labor, environmentalists, state officials, community leaders, and the company that culminated in this agreement.

Here’s the Sierra Club’s take on today’s bill-signing.

The Governor and DeBolt singled out two people who they said were key to the effort’s success – Jay Manning, the Governor’s chief of staff (and former Ecology director), and Keith Phillips, her advisor on energy and environmental issues.

CEO Snyder noted that his Canada-based company is celebrating its 100th year … and, he said, today’s agreement helps signal TransAlta’s move into the future, which involves clean energy.

The event also served as a salute to TransAlta’s workers. The company treated employees and the other participants to a barbecue lunch following the bill-signing ceremony.

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