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Originally published Friday, April 29, 2011 at 3:01 PM

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Bill signed to close last coal plant in Washington

The last step to start shutting down the only coal burning power plant left in Washington state was taken Friday when Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a measure that mandates the gradual closure of the TransAlta facility in Centralia.

Associated Press

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OLYMPIA, Wash. —

The last step to start shutting down the only coal burning power plant left in Washington state was taken Friday when Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a measure that mandates the gradual closure of the TransAlta facility in Centralia.

Gregoire signed the bill at the plant, surrounded by officials from the Canadian company that owns it, plant workers, environmentalists and other lawmakers - marking an end to a prolonged fight over air pollution that culminated in this legislative session.

"The Centralia power plant has long been a critical part of the regional economy," Gregoire said. "The men and women here who keep it running not only power homes and businesses, you serve as the backbone of your communities. We will build on your skills and your knowhow to power our grid and our future."

The debate behind the shutdown centered on environmentalists pushing for cleaner air, while local lawmakers argued that closing the TransAlta plant would result in the loss of jobs for Lewis County and the surrounding area.

Earlier this year, lawmakers reached a compromise that calls for TransAlta to provide $55 million in economic development assistance and to install new pollution controls at the plant before it finally closes by 2025. TransAlta will also get expedited permits to build a natural gas-fired plant in Lewis County to come online by 2020. The Canadian company also will be allowed enter into long-term agreements to sell its electricity to other utilities.

"TransAlta is a progressive power company that strives to produce more electricity with less environmental impact, every day," said TransAlta President and CEO Steve Snyder. "With this bill, TransAlta will be able to continue powering this community with new investments in power production and new jobs."

The bill would shut down one of two boilers at the TransAlta plant by 2020 and the second by 2025.

The Centralia facility is a major source of greenhouse gases and other pollutants.

"Today, we are one significant step closer to being truly free from coal in the Northwest, which will bring about a cleaner, safer, healthier and more prosperous future," said Bruce Nilles, deputy conservation director for the Sierra Club, in a written statement.

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