Activists gather outside the Renton Community Center to protest Puget Sound Energy's plan to continue using electricity from coal.

Activists gather outside the Renton Community Center to protest Puget Sound Energy’s plan to continue using electricity from coal.

Eilís O’Neill, KUOW/EarthFix

UPDATE (Feb. 22, 2:31 p.m. PST) —About one hundred activists gathered Wednesday to protest Puget Sound Energy’s plan to keep producing electricity from coal. PSE is the company that likely keeps your lights and Wifi on if you live in the Puget Sound area but not in Seattle.

Unlike Seattle City Light, which relies on hydroelectric dams, PSE gets about a third of its energy from coal — and activists have been trying to change that for years. They enjoyed partial success when the company agreed to shut down its two dirtiest Montana coal plants by 2022. But that plan leaves two coal plants still online.

The public had the chance Wednesday to comment on the company’s 20-year plan.

The plan suggests, unless something changes, PSE will keep producing electricity from coal until 2035.

A PSE spokesperson told KUOW that’s because the utility has a legal obligation to produce electricity as cheaply as possible, and coal will remain one of the cheapest options for about 20 years unless Washington passes a carbon tax.

But many of the commenters critiqued PSE’s methods for evaluating how much coal, wind, and other options would cost, saying coal is getting more expensive and renewables cheaper all the time.

Montana state Rep. Denise Hayman attended the meeting to urge PSE to stop relying on coal.

“I’m here to promote Montana wind,” Hayman said. “We have great wind in Montana, and we could be providing that to Washington at a very reasonable cost.”

Grant Ringel, with Puget Sound Energy, said the company is moving in that direction: it’s just a matter of timing—how soon the company will stop using coal.

“It’s a safe bet that technology is going to advance, and we are going to find cleaner and cleaner resources for our customers,” he said.

Utility regulators will weigh in with their opinion some time in the next two months.