As unheard-of levels of smoke smother the West and record-breaking flooding and storm damage plague the coastlines, we witness the growing influence of climate change that scientists predicted decades ago and have warned us about ever since. Increasing levels of carbon dioxide are the primary cause of climate change, and we know that coal-fired power plants emit the largest quantities of CO2 in the United States. Yet, we in North Idaho continue to rely on coal power for a portion of our energy needs despite the growing availability of renewable energy.
Avista Clinging to Coal Power
Our electric utility, Avista, decides where North Idaho gets its energy. Since the 1980s, Avista has forced its customers to pay for coal-generated electricity produced by the Colstrip power plant in Montana. Unable to break free from this 1980s mindset, Avista just released its plans to cling to coal power for the next two decades and drag out North Idaho’s main contribution to climate change. As if it were the captain of a sinking ship, Avista is handcuffing itself to coal as other utilities around the country abandon ship and invest in renewable energy. Unfortunately, as our captain, Avista is handcuffing each of us in North Idaho to this sinking coal ship and the associated costs as well.
The high cost of coal energy comes, in part, from the facts that coal plants are an old technology (upkeep doesn’t come cheap) and burning coal is messy, requiring expensive cleanup. You may have heard that Avista wants to increase its electric rates? Well, included in Avista’s proposed rate hikes are projections that Colstrip will need, on average, $7.2 million a year for infrastructure investments and maintenance over the next five years alone. And this doesn’t include the significant environmental cleanup costs that Avista customers are already on the hook for. Dumping money into a sinking ship is a bad investment. And unless we speak up as customers, Avista won’t plan a way out.
We Need Smarter Energy Investments
Electric customers in Washington and Oregon are speaking up about Colstrip, and their utilities are listening. One utility is even considering exiting Colstrip by 2025. North Idaho can do this too, and we have one of our best opportunities right now. The 20-year plan that Avista recently submitted to the Public Utilities Commission (known as the integrated resource plan or IRP) is open for comment, and we should strongly advocate for smarter investments in renewable energy and the end of Colstrip, our most significant contribution to climate change.
Please take five minutes to tell the Public Utilities Commission that we don’t want or need 20 more years of coal.