Centralia Power Plant

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Centralia Power Plant is a coal-fired power station owned and operated by TransAlta near Centralia, Washington.

Unit 1 (730 MW) is planned for retirement in 2020.[1]

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Plant to cut some emissions

In April 2009, TransAlta Corp. agreed to reduce Centralia's mercury and nitrogen oxide emissions. Washington's only coal-fired power plant will reduce mercury pollution by 50 percent and its NOx pollution by 20 percent in 2009. The company estimates the reductions will cost between $20 million and $30 million.[2]

The deal was brokered confidentially by officials from Governor Gregoire's office and the state Ecology Department. Critics say the process should have gone through public channels, and that the cuts called for by the agreement are too small and enable the plant to continue adding smog to the region. Keith Phillips, the governor's environmental policy advisor, has promised a public hearing before the deal is signed.[3]

The Washington Department of Ecology will accept comments on the proposed agreement through November 9, 2009. There is a public hearing scheduled for October 13.[4]

Carbon Dioxide Output

Public Citizen in 2004 ranked the Centralia plant as the 36th most polluting power plant in the United States for carbon dioxide CO2 emissions. The group notes that even with scrubbers installed that CO2 emissions would not be affected.[5]

Legislative issues

On January 25, 2010 the Washington legislature introduced a bill that would eliminate a state tax exemption for Washington's only coal-fired power plant in Centralia. The TransAlta Corporation, based in Canada, currently receives a tax break of about $4 million annually. The tax break, enacted in the 1990s, was passed in exchange for the plant to burn locally mined coal. However, the Centralia coal mine closed in 2006. Proponents of the legislation argue that TransAlta is receiving tax breaks despite "violating [Washington's] stated energy policies". [6]

In early February 2011, Washington state lawmaker Marko Liias proposed a bill that would require the Centralia plant to be shut by December 31, 2015, or by December 31, 2017, if Bonneville Power Administration determines the unit is needed until then for reliability reasons. The lawmaker stated that the plant was harmful to human and environmental health. A spokesperson for the plant stated that such a time line was not feasible. [7]

Opponents of Centralia plant rally in State capitol

Opponents of the Centralia plant in Washington state squared off in the Olympia on February 16, 2011 over how quickly Washington's only coal plant should stop burning coal.

Environmentalists rallied support for House Bill 1825, which would transition the coal-fired plant off coal by 2015. Another measure in the Senate has set a 2020 deadline. TransAlta, which operates the plant, stated it must operate the facility until 2025 to protect jobs and provide enough time to bring cleaner resources on line.

TransAlta supporters also held a rally in Olympia to raise their concerns.[8]

TransAlta to phase out coal boilers in Washington state

It was announced on March 5, 2011 that a bill to close two coal boilers at a TransAlta's plant Centralia Power Plant, and phase out coal-fired power in Washington state is set to go to state lawmakers under a deal between the company and state Governor Christine Gregoire.

One coal boiler in Centralia will be shut no later than the end of December 2020 and the other by the end of December 2025 under terms of the reported agreement, which will allow TransAlta to sell long-term contracts for coal-fired power to help finance a transition to gas-fueled energy, a statement from the governor's office stated. The agreement will also require TransAlta to install air pollution control technology to further reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides at its Centralia plant starting in 2013.[9]

Bill to move TransAlta from coal signed by Governor

On April 11, 2011 the Washington State House of Representatives voted overwhelming to approved Senate Bill 5769, which would shut down one of two boilers at the TransAlta coal-fired plant by 2020 and phase out coal-burning by 2025. TransAlta, state officials and environmental groups negotiated a deal in March 2011 to close the plant in Centralia. The measure requires the company to provide $55 million for economic development and other assistance, and to install additional air pollution controls called scrubbers to further reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides at the plant.

In exchange, TransAlta would be allowed enter into long-term agreements to sell its electricity to other utilities, which is currently prohibited by state law.

Lawmakers in the House made mostly technical changes to the bill, which passed by an 87-9 vote. The bill was later passed by the Washington State Senate.[10]

On May 3, 2011, Governor Chris Gregoire signed legislation today that will close the plant by 2025.[11] It was also reported that natural gas was being discussed as the replacement fuel for the TransAlta plant.[12]

Text of SB 5769 here

Plant Data

  • Owner: TransAlta Centralia Generation LLC
  • Parent Company: TransAlta
  • Plant Nameplate Capacity: 1,460 MW
  • Units and In-Service Dates: 730 MW (1972), 730 MW (1973)
  • Location: 913 Big Hanaford Rd., Centralia, WA 98531
  • GPS Coordinates: 46.753833, -122.853833
  • Coal Consumption: 6.996 million tons/year[13]
  • Coal Source: Powder River Basin (WY, MT)[14]
  • Number of Employees:

Emissions Data

  • 2006 CO2 Emissions: 7,974,564 tons
  • 2006 SO2 Emissions: 1,668 tons
  • 2006 SO2 Emissions per MWh:
  • 2006 NOx Emissions: 9,699 tons
  • 2005 Mercury Emissions: 315 lb.

Death and disease attributable to fine particle pollution from Centralia Power Plant

In 2010, Abt Associates issued a study commissioned by the Clean Air Task Force, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization, quantifying the deaths and other health effects attributable to fine particle pollution from coal-fired power plants.[15] Fine particle pollution consists of a complex mixture of soot, heavy metals, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides. Among these particles, the most dangerous are those less than 2.5 microns in diameter, which are so tiny that they can evade the lung's natural defenses, enter the bloodstream, and be transported to vital organs. Impacts are especially severe among the elderly, children, and those with respiratory disease. The study found that over 13,000 deaths and tens of thousands of cases of chronic bronchitis, acute bronchitis, asthma, congestive heart failure, acute myocardial infarction, dysrhythmia, ischemic heart disease, chronic lung disease, and pneumonia each year are attributable to fine particle pollution from U.S. coal plant emissions. These deaths and illnesses are major examples of coal's external costs, i.e. uncompensated harms inflicted upon the public at large. Low-income and minority populations are disproportionately impacted as well, due to the tendency of companies to avoid locating power plants upwind of affluent communities. To monetize the health impact of fine particle pollution from each coal plant, Abt assigned a value of $7,300,000 to each 2010 mortality, based on a range of government and private studies. Valuations of illnesses ranged from $52 for an asthma episode to $440,000 for a case of chronic bronchitis.[16]

Table 1: Death and disease attributable to fine particle pollution from Centralia Power Plant

Type of Impact Annual Incidence Valuation
Deaths 5 $39,000,000
Heart attacks 8 $880,000
Asthma attacks 97 $5,000
Hospital admissions 3 $71,000
Chronic bronchitis 4 $1,700,000
Asthma ER visits 2 $<1,000

Source: "Find Your Risk from Power Plant Pollution," Clean Air Task Force interactive table, accessed February 2011

Citizen activism

On September 28, 2009 Earthjustice, on behalf of the Sierra Club, National Parks Conservation Association and the Northwest Environmental Defense Center, filed an appeal to challenge the renewal of an air pollution permit with the state Pollution Control Hearings Board for the TransAlta coal-fired plant located in Centralia, Washington. The groups argued that the permit fails to impose limits on mercury and greenhouse gas emissions and does not require best available control technologies for nitrogen oxides.[17][18]

Doug Howell, senior representative for the Sierra Club’s Coal-Free Washington campaign commented:

In Washington state, TransAlta, as the number one source of global warming, mercury and haze pollution, has had a free ride for too long. This old, filthy coal-fired plant must be seen for what it is and now is the time to hold the coal plant accountable to fulfill its obligations to address known pollutants to protect our health, environment and economy.[19]

Articles and Resources


  1. Planned retirements, Sierra Club, updated March 14, 2016
  2. "State's only coal power plant to reduce emissions," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 3, 2009.
  3. "State's secret deal with coal plant sparks outcry," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 7, 2009.
  4. "Public hearing for reductions of coal-fired emissions," Othello Outlook, September 21, 2009.
  5. Jim DePeso, [ "America's Dirtiest Power Plants: Plugged into the Bush Administration,"] Public Citizen, May, 2004.
  6. Chris Thomas, "Lawmakers Seek to 'Strip-Mine' Tax Break from WA Coal Plant" Lake Stevens Journal, January 25, 2010.
  7. "Washington lawmaker offers bill to shut Centralia plant as early as 2015", February 3, 2011.
  8. "Opponents square off over Wash.'s coal-fired plant" Associated Press, February 15, 2011.
  9. "TransAlta to phase out coal boilers in Wash. state" Reuters, March 5, 2011.
  10. "Bill moves Wash. plant off coal by 2025" Phuong Le, Associated Press, April 11, 2011.
  11. "Washington State to Close Coal Plants, Offshore Oil Drilling Comes to Vote", May 3, 2011.
  12. "Natural Gas Most Likely To Replace Coal At Big Power Plant " Tom Banse, Oregon Public Broadcast, May 1, 2011.
  13. "NETL's 2007 Coal Power Plant DataBase"
  14. "Agreement reached to stop burning coal at Centralia power plant Seattle Times, March 5, 2011.
  15. "The Toll from Coal: An Updated Assessment of Death and Disease from America's Dirtiest Energy Source," Clean Air Task Force, September 2010.
  16. "Technical Support Document for the Powerplant Impact Estimator Software Tool," Prepared for the Clean Air Task Force by Abt Associates, July 2010
  17. Jim DePeso, "Green groups appeal air permit for Centralia coal plant," Seattle Energy Policy Examiner, September 29, 2009.
  18. Groups Challenge WA Coal Plant’s Permit Renewal, Public News Service, September 30, 2009.
  19. Earthjustice Appeals TransAlta Permit, The Chronicle Online, September 29, 2009.

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