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Originally published March 7, 2011 at 5:06 PM | Page modified March 8, 2011 at 12:26 PM

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Corrected version

Breathe easier, a plan to stop burning coal for power

Gov. Chris Gregoire helped broker a coherent agreement between TransAlta, state regulators and environmental groups to phase in closure of the coal-fired generating plant in Centralia by 2025. The deal is sensitive to corporate needs, environmental issues and economic and labor concerns.

A surprise weekend agreement for a phased closure of the TransAlta coal-fired power plant in Centralia is an environmental achievement and a triumph of purposeful negotiations.

The deal, which must be approved by the Legislature, leads to power generation in Washington being coal-free by 2025. In the meantime, additional pollution control technology will be installed in 2013, and one of two coal-fired units will close down in 2020.

Company officials, Washington state and a coalition of environmental organizations drafted the proposed agreement announced by Gov. Chris Gregoire, who praised the good-faith efforts.

Under pressure from lawmakers who wanted to speed up a switch from coal to natural gas in Washington — in particular, state Sen. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge, and Rep. Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo — parties found agreement on a series of transition points.

TransAlta gets to pace its shift away from coal, and will have state support in securing exemptions from federal requirements. The plant would also get an exemption from state rules to allow long-term, in-state sales of coal-generated power.

Everything points to helping TransAlta reach the 2025 shift from coal to gas. The agreement "provides us greater clarity, clear targets and a defined framework to begin working within," Centralia operations Director Lou Florence said in a statement.

Mindful of the impacts on jobs and Lewis County, Trans-Alta committed to $30 million for local economic development, energy efficiency and weatherization, and a $25 million investment in environmental technology development.

TransAlta must prepare a decommissioning plan 24 months before closure. The lead time will help Centralia, Lewis County and Southwest Washington prepare for what comes next. Labor leaders applauded efforts to maintain good jobs.

A weekend vote in the Senate drew bipartisan support. That is the hope in the House. Acknowledge and support a coherent plan to move ahead.

The date of the closure of the first TransAlta coal-fired generating plant in Centralia is proposed for 2020. The date was incorrect in the original version.

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