About 50 protested Puget Sound Energy’s plans to develop a liquefied natural gas facility in Tacoma, the Colstrip coal power plan in Montana and pushed for its move to renewable energy on Thursday. Photo courtesy of Sara Papanikolaou

Environmental groups protest Bellevue-based Puget Sound Energy

About 50 environmentalists stormed Puget Sound Energy headquarters in Bellevue Thursday.

The group was among hundreds of other protesters who rallied against the company’s 13 facilities across Western Washington in a movement called “Keep It in the Ground.”

Members of the Sierra Club, a newly-formed Eastside chapter of 350.org, CENSE and Protectors of the Salish Sea delivered an official letter and 5,000 signatures on a petition that demanded the utility company stop pushing fracked gas, abandon its liquefied natural gas facility in Tacoma plans and shutdown the Colstrip coal plant in Montana, which, they claim, is the dirtiest in the United States. Instead, they requested Puget Sound Energy switch to 100 percent renewable energy.

During the Bellevue protest, Sa’anich member Paul Cheoketan Wagner led the group in prayer-based drumming and singing. The protests were organized by environmental groups in Washington to stand in solidarity with Puyallup Water Warriors to fight the liquid natural gas facility.

“Jobs are important,” Puyallup tribal member Dakota W. Case said in a news release. “But not those jobs. The kind of jobs we need are renewable energy jobs if we’re going to move forward as the human race to actually live in harmony and have a sustainable future.”

Jessica Koski with the Sierra Club said it was exciting that the two organizations banded together to deliver the signatures. Although at first they were blocked by police, she said they were able to hand off the box of signatures to a Puget Sound Energy representative. They’re initial plan was to give the petition to CEO Kimberly Harris.

“They are in their hands,” Koski said. “So, hopefully they’re taking note of that.”

The protests were held in North Seattle, Tacoma, Poulsbo, Ellensburg, Kent, Bellingham, Whidbey Island, Vashon, Olympia, Bremerton, Wenatchee, and Chehalis in addition to Bellevue.

“No more excuses or ‘bridge’ fuels,” 350 Seattle’s Jess Wallach said. “With the recent hurricanes and wildfires, we’ve seen what’s at stake. We have to seize this moment to move decisively to clean energy – not let ourselves get locked into decades of fossil fuel use.”

Puget Sound Energy announced on Sept. 15 they had reached a settlement in their rate case. With an increase of 1 percent for electric bills and a decrease of 4 percent, they said the settlement established a funding mechanism to decommission and re-mediate the shutdown of Colstrip units 1 and 2, which are scheduled for July 2022, and the settlement set aside funding for the shutdown and cleanup costs for units 3 and 4 as well, but no dates for those closures have been established.

For the newer Colstrip units 3 and 4, the schedule for depreciating those investments has been accelerated from a period ending in 2045 to one ending in 2027. This does not mean that units 3 and 4 will shut down in 2027; rather it means the money invested in the units will be recovered by then, Energy officials said.

“This settlement establishes a workable mechanism to fund the decommissioning and environmental remediation at Colstrip,”Ken Johnson, Puget Sound Energy’s director of regulatory affairs, said. “It ensures future generations will not be burdened by costs resulting from decisions made five decades ago.”

The Sierra Club responded that they believe the economic realities will lead to a sooner closure and the “most important action now is get outstanding debt paid down so that the next generation of Washington families aren’t stuck paying for an inoperable coal plant.”

“This is a huge step towards cutting ties with polluting coal, which still makes up about 30 percent of Puget Sound Energy’s power, and replacing it with clean energy,” Sierra Club officials said in a news release. “Now we must push Puget Sound Energy to continue this forward progress by recognizing the likelihood of a 2025 retirement date, or sooner, and bring other Colstrip owners on board.”

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