Search form

Donate Today

KCTS 9 Connects

Transition of Coal Power to Natural Gas - April 15, 2011

April 16, 2011

An agreement has finally been reached to move Washington state off of coal-fired power generation. By 2025, the TransAlta plant in Centralia will be completely converted to natural gas. But why will it take so long for the switch to take place, and what are the health and environmental impacts in the meantime.

What is the Impact of Coal on Human Health?


Senate Bill 5769

Senate Bill 5769 would shut down one of two boilers at the TransAlta plant by 2020 and phase out coal-burning by 2025. The House approved the bill in April 2011.


Why 14 Years to Move From Coal to Gas? Why So Long?


Which Sources of Energy Should We Be Moving to?


Producer's Notes

Producer's Notes According to environmentalists, coal-fired power plants are responsible for 30% percent of global warming pollution, are linked to asthma and other health problems, while coal mining destroys huge swaths of our environment and pollutes the land with mercury and other toxins.

If coal-fired plants are so bad, why not just shut them down? It seems pretty simple to me. Just stop burning coal.

Well, that’s exactly what we’re doing in Washington state. The State Legislature has passed a bill that will switch the TransAlta power plant in Centralia from coal to natural gas and other cleaner energy sources. The TransAlta facility is the last coal-fired plant in our state. It accounts for about 10% of all the greenhouse gas emissions in Washington.

The bill – called the TransAlta Energy Transition Bill – will move the Centralia plant off of coal completely. But here’s the thing. The transition won’t be done until 2025, which means 14 more years of greenhouse gas emissions. Why so long? We wanted to know.

So in this episode of “Connects,” we’re taking a closer look at the TransAlta deal. One thing we discovered -- TransAlta isn’t really the bad guy in all this. The company has already implemented pollution control technology at the Centralia plant, and under the new deal will put in even more. Also, the company has supported the transition bill, even though it didn’t have to. It could have just kept on burning coal for years on end. So the fact there is a deal in place is a pretty big step.

We’ll also be taking a look at ideas for carbon capture. Even with TransAlta converting to natural gas, coal isn’t going away in other states or around the world anytime soon. We’ll talk with local experts about the practicality of capturing and storing carbon waste.

And we’ll also talk with scientists at the University of Washington who are working on a so-called “Smart Grid” that will help integrate new, renewable sources of power like wind and solar into our existing electricity grid, while increasing power capacity and reducing wasted energy.

I think one of the messages that will come out of this week’s episode is that the war against climate change will have to be waged on several fronts – ending our dependence on fossil fuels, finding clean sources of energy, reducing waste – all of it.