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State Republicans seek weakening of clean energy rules

A Senate committee chairman concedes that Gov. Inslee would veto one of his ideas. But the GOP hopes to build momentum to roll back a voter-approved initiative's requirements eventually.
Young's Creek

Young's Creek Snohomish County PUD

Efforts to retreat on state clean energy measures brought high-energy testimony from industry supporters on Tuesday.

Testimony for two Senate bills aimed at easing clean energy requirements enshrined in a 2006 initiative spilled over Tuesday, running so long that testimony for a third had to be postponed.

All three take aim at requirements for power companies in Washington to get part of their energy from renewable sources by 2020. Washington voters passed the requirements, designed to take effect gradually, in the form of 2006 Initiative 937. While none of the three scheduled for Tuesday proposed changing the timeline itself, all three proposed widening how power companies could meet the clean energy requirements.

The primary argument in favor of the bills Tuesday was that easing the requirements would make energy cheaper for power companies, who would in turn pass the savings on to their customers.

Tim Boyd, a representative of a trade association made up of industrial users of electricity, said of the initiative's renewable energy goals, "These are arguments about the future. The future doesn't do much good for somebody who can't pay their electric bill."

One of the bills, SB 5432, would loosen the definition of renewable energy — by including power generated by dams — so much that, in effect, no change would be required to comply with the bill. Already, more of Washington's electricity is produced by dams than the 15 percent ultimately required by the initiative.

The other two bills, SB 5438 and SB 5648, would allow power companies to carry over renewable energy credits from one year to the next. SB 5648 also would allow exempt from clean energy requirements the electricity from pre-2010 power plants or electricity bought under pre-2010 contracts from clean energy, allowing utilities that aren't expanding to avoid having to change the ways they produce power.

Tuesday's testimony was before the Senate energy, environment and telecommunications committee. So many industry and utility company representatives testified — and were allowed so long to do so — that testimony on SB 5432 had to be bumped from the agenda.

Committee chair Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, said afterward that he thought that voters hadn't understood that green energy would be more expensive when they passed the initiative. Enough business owners had complained to him about the increased cost of electricity, Ericksen said, that he felt authorized to propose changing the voter-approved law.

Ericksen sponsored two of the bills. The third was sponsored by freshman Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick.

Ericksen said that SB 5432, which he sponsored, has almost no chance of avoiding veto by Gov. Jay Inslee, who championed initiative 937 as a member of Congress. But Ericksen said he hopes that at least the proposal of the bills would help change an energy policy he called a wrong-headed.

"Maybe we'll get there someday, build some nukes [nuclear power plants] and get a better energy policy," Ericksen said. "But we're not there yet."

No date was immediately available for the rescheduled public hearing on SB 5432.

For exclusive coverage of the state Legislature, check out Crosscut's Olympia 2013 page.

Tom James has helped cover the 2013 state legislative session for Crosscut through the University of Washington journalism program. He also writes for Crosscut on other subjects. Born in Seattle and raised in Kitsap, Tom worked for the Kitsap Navy News and Central Kitsap Reporter before heading to the UW for a double-major in journalism and economics, which he hopes to finish in 2014.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Feb 13, 8:35 a.m. Inappropriate

It's quite simple: Any law that claims hydropower is not renewable is stupid on its face. That is like passing a law that says the sun doesn't rise in the East. It is Orwellian bs.

If the Legislature wants to pass laws that say utilities must produce a certain percentage of the electricity from wind, solar, geothermal, the tides or whatever else, then have that debate -- at least it's not purposely distorting language to shape a political agenda and fashion a definition that is laughable on its face.

Posted Wed, Feb 13, 11:46 a.m. Inappropriate

Well, then you have stupid on your face because, in fact, the law does acknowledge hydropower as a renewable resource. Read the law.

Since one of the purposes of the law is to INCREASE development of new renewable resources, existing hydropower does not count toward meeting the targets.

Saratoga

Posted Wed, Feb 13, 1:30 p.m. Inappropriate

"State Republicans seek weakening of clean energy rules"

Of course they do, it's their job to ruin our environment and our economy.That said, unfortunately, they've gotten a lot of help from DINOs in recent years.

nwcitizen

Posted Wed, Feb 13, 11:35 p.m. Inappropriate

New hydropower projects should not be given the advantage of being classified as "renewable." They shouldn't be encouraged because they produce very little power at great cost.

Utilities and developers love to throw around numbers like "supplies enough power for 6000 households" and other such fantasies. They do this by citing the theoretical maximum output of a project at one moment in time, the most favorable moment possible when a river or creek is at maximum flow. These are also the moments when every other dam is producing full tilt and they can hardly give power away.

The reality is that all the easy, sensible places to put dams or other hydro projects already have been developed. All that's left are the dregs. The main beneficiaries of theses new hydro projects are the armies of bureaucrats and consultants who find employment in building them. The problem is especially bad with some of the Public Utility Districts where PUD staffers steer lucrative contracts for these things to outside consultants, something that does no harm to the staffers' employment prospects with the consultants after they retire from the PUD.

It would certainly be possible to dam up and de-water practically all of the free flowing streams we have left, thereby producing a very modest amount of power at just the time of year when it's not needed. Just go to Switzerland if you are curious to see what it's like. It's rare to see water flowing in a stream there. It's all in pipes.

The Cascades got their name because of the ever present sound of falling water. The Swiss Alps are silent, except for a few beauty spots where waterfalls are turned on at partial flow on summer afternoons for the benefit of tourists. I think I prefer the sounds of our thousands of cascades. PUD staffers and consultants should find better uses for their lavish budgets than damming up the streams of the Cascades.

Posted Thu, Feb 14, 6:09 a.m. Inappropriate

This isn't a matter of changing a policy that substitutes 'clean' energy for 'dirty' energy. The energy we had been using--i.e., hydroelectric--was already renewable, and therefore 'clean.' What this policy has done is to mandate that residents pay for the power generated by the same companies that financed the 2006 initiative campaign and have since lavished campaign donations on the politicians (mostly Democrats) that will defend and uphold their artificially contrived share of the local energy market. Changing this policy in the manner proposed by the Senators will not make Washington's energy sources less 'clean', just less expensive (and less reliant on unsightly, out-of-place wind turbines). The Senators are right--the current law needs to be 'watered down' (pun intended).

Posted Thu, Feb 14, 4:42 p.m. Inappropriate

I agree. The initiative that many of us voted for(including me) without reading or, if we did, thinking through the fine print, was simplistic or deviously worded, depending on your point of view. We need to keep up the emphasis on conversing energy, any additional needed after that should come from renewable sources with the most benefit for the least total energy expended in its acquisition and operation. The embedded energy invested in hydro-electric should definitely be a part of the total equation.

Resolve based on feel-good visions, distorted for effect, needs clear-headed bipartisan revisiting and it looks as if citizens will need to weigh in to get that as opposed to jerking from one incontrovertibly true dogma to the another.

afreeman

Posted Thu, Feb 14, 8:29 a.m. Inappropriate

Tom James - you've inserted the wrong title. The Republicans are trying to improve Washington's economy by making green energy more sensical. Republicans are trying to change hydropower to what most Washingtonians now think - hydro is renewable.

What isn't so green are wind turbines that require massive amounts of CO2 spewing concrete for bases, large energy requiring steel and aluminum for towers, over 500 pounds of Chinese rare earth elements (which causes massive toxic radioactive thorium releases into the Pacific food chain), require considerable energy to install and maintain, kill birds and bats, and all so rate payers can subsidize wind turbine companies to NOT provide power because it's too expensive. Here in Grays Harbor we're having to pay about $3 million for power we can't use.

The Republicans are trying to correct a bad situation created by politicians who don't understand science or technology but do understand the donations from lobbyists, and coercion by the enviro activists.

Note also that green energy is severely damaging Germany's economy. Fluctuating power is destroying some of their industrial equipment, and the public is turning against their having to subsidize it.

Posted Thu, Feb 14, 9:05 a.m. Inappropriate

It would be interesting to see just how much subsidy the wind turbines require to be competitive with gas fired generators. The federal government already subsidizes these devices (as it subsidizes electric cars and a host of other supposedly beneficial technology). The Washington State mandate noted above adds another level and it is worrisome to me that overlapping financial benefits can make us misunderstand just where efficient electric generation lies. The federal wind energy subsidies and tax breaks have not been an unqualified success; we have disappointing generation, short productive life of the machines and untimely surges of generation. As noted above they are destructive to wild life. And they are ugly.

kieth

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