Washington embraces clean energy; vows to break its coal addiction

Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire has inked a deal to get her state off coal.

The connection has long roots and the dependency remains strong, so breaking the hold and getting the Evergreen state off the stuff will take years. About 14 when all is said and done, officials said.

That's a long time to break an addiction. But sometimes treatment programs -- to be effective -- must be lengthy to avoid backsliding. I can just see the state sneaking off for a smoke in the boy's room, listening to some Motley Crue.

The idea is to phase out coal generated energy at the TransAlta power plant in Centralia, near Kurt Cobain's early pre-Seattle grunge stomping grounds. The plant has two boilers. Under the agreement, Senate Bill 5769, one would close in 2020, the other in 2025.

"The result is a cleaner energy future," said Sen. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge Island, in a statement.

Rockefeller and others pointed out the reason for the long recovery period: jobs. Big deal in a down economy. TransAlta will work to shift the load to cleaner options, or not.

But the writing's on the wall. Washington follows a lead set by California. On April 11, 2011, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a measure that would require utilities to supply 33 percent of their energy from renewable sources.

Los Angeles Times reporter Patrick McGreevy quoted Brown at the signing as saying, "Its about California leading the country. It's America potentially leading the world."

Yeah, that's it. Now Washington. Can Oregon be far behind?

Actually, the Beaver State is already there. Portland, Ore.-based research firm Clean Edge did list the state No. 2 behind California on its most recent U.S. Clean Energy Leadership Index and then-Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed Senate Bill 838 into law in June 2007. It requires the state’s largest utilities to generate 25 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2025.

"Today ... we are protecting our quality of life," Kulongowski said at the signing, according to a post by causetinnitus.net.

Other states are doing the same. The coal lobby likely isn't too pleased. The nation still gets about 47 percent of its energy from coal, but the amount of energy produced dropped by about 1.3 percent in January 2011, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

However, coal is cheap and it drives jobs. And as americaspower.org points out: "New coal plants built today using state-of-the-art technology offer improved environmental performance."

The site, operated by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, says coal-fueled power plants are capable of reducing up to 98 percent of sulfur dioxide emissions, 90 percent of nitrogen oxide emissions and 90 percent of mercury emissions.

So don't count it out. Growing up, we used sub-bituminous coal for heat up in Fairbanks. The Usibellis gave us cheap fuel to battle the chill when nights dropped to 50 degrees below zero (and sometimes colder). Likely, a lot of other families feel the same way about coal, which this country has more of than the Middle East has oil.

I was just talking to my in-laws, who are dedicated Fox News watchers, about how the future will likely be a mix of multiple forms of energy. I lean in the renewable direction. They made their fortune in Alaska's oil industry, so they said "obviously" oil.

But ocean acidification, higher mean temperatures, receding glaciers and snow pack and a whole host of other issues are making the argument for doing a better job with our energy use.