Puget Sound Energy representatives were met with a crowded room at an Aug. 28 meeting at the Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue where they presented work on a resource management and acquisition plan update.
The plan, known as the integrated resource plan (IRP), forecasts long-term developments and estimates the amount of power the utility company — which provides electricity for the greater Eastside — will need to meet future demands. The Bellevue-based utility calculates this by forecasting the number of customers they expect to have in their system during a year and the amount of energy each customer will use as well as what peak-use loads could be.
In 2017, the amount of energy PSE estimated it would use was actually lower than the amount of energy consumed and 2019 figures are lower than 2017 estimates. PSE officials suggested this was due to more conservation efforts and people not being fully recovered from the 2008 economic downturn leading to less energy use to lower bills.
In addition, PSE integrated resources manager Phillip Popoff said the plan must include maximum peak use capacity in megawatts (mW) to supply customer demand during the highest use periods of the year. By 2020 the utility is also mandated by state law to meet 15 percent of its load by using renewable energy sources. Popoff said they would look at picking up additional renewable energy if it was financially feasible to do so.
“We will go out and acquire renewable energy in excess of the IRP,” he said, if it was cost effective.
Popoff said state law also mandates PSE should find the cheapest sources of energy for its customers. However, attendees at the meeting questioned how cost was calculated and urged PSE to incorporate costs associated with using dirty fuels like fossil fuel and coal into the total cost analysis when deciding where to source power.
PSE currently buys power from two coal plants, one in Centralia and the other in Colstrip, Montana. Both have come under scrutiny from environmental activists. The power utility company has a contract with the Centralia power plant that expires in 2025 when the plant will shut down in accordance with a state-negotiated settlement to shutter the plant.
The Colstrip plant is partially owned by PSE and is scheduled to shut down two boilers in 2020 and fully close in 2027. However, for the last two months it has sat idle after being shut down by Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality for dirty emissions that exceeded air pollution regulations, according to the Billings Gazette. PSE currently gets 37 percent of its power from coal, 31 percent from hydroelectric power, 22 percent from natural gas and much of the rest from a mix of largely clean energy.
Doug Howell, a representative of the environmental group the Sierra Club, chided PSE representatives for continuing to use the Colstrip power plant even after its third closure in nine years.
“Now, after two months, you still don’t know what’s going on,” he said.
As the coal plants go offline, it will create a 272 mW deficit beginning in 2022 during the peak month of December and is expected to grow and need to be replaced either by clean energy or other sources. The one category of power that is projected to remain stable in the plan is natural gas, which has also come under scrutiny from indigenous groups and environmental activists.
Popoff said the use of natural gas could be reduced in the future. However, PSE is currently building a liquefied natural gas plant in Tacoma, despite intense opposition from a coalition of First Nations spearheaded by the Puyallup Tribe, the Seattle Times wrote.
During the comment period at the Aug. 28 meeting, multiple First Nations speakers addressed the PSE representatives over their use of coal as well as plans to build the natural gas facility.
“Don’t do it on the backs of my people, don’t do it on the lands of my ancestors,” one said.
PSE will release the minutes from the Aug. 28 meeting by Sept. 20.