Green state law called into question

Conservative lawmakers and others are urging an audit of the results of ordering utilities to use more alternative power sources.
A wind farm in Montana

A wind farm in Montana Credit: Idaho National Laboratory/Flickr

A conservative coalition wants the Washington State Auditor's Office to find out whether a statewide alternative energy push is really working.

Sixteen conservative legislators, the conservative-leaning Seattle-based Washington Policy Center, the Washington Farm Bureau and six Eastern Washington chambers of commerce sent a letter Monday to state Auditor Troy Kelley requesting an audit of the effects of Initiative 937.

In 2006, 52 percent of the state's voters approved I-937, which requires that 15 percent of the state's electricity must come from alternative sources — wind, solar, biomass and others — by 2020. The interim targets have been an easily achieved 3 percent by Jan. 1, 2012, with a still-to-be-reached goal of 9 percent by 2016.

Overall, 17 power utilities in Washington are covered by Initiative 937. Under the law, any utility with more than 25,000 customers must comply. The law's purpose is to cut down on the emission of greenhouse gases by generating more electricity from renewable resources. At least 20 states plus Washington, D.C., have similar laws on their books. The only other Northwest state with such a law is Montana, where utilities must hit the 15 percent mark by 2015.

The group believes an audit could show whether I-937 can be modified to be more cost-effective overall and friendlier rate-wise to lower-income people. Spokane Republican Sen. Michael Baumgartner, one of the letter signers, said, "The Legislature needs to have a better discussion of I-937."

Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, countered that the audit is the latest attempt to neutralize I-937. "It's just another scare by the Republican senators to repeal an initiative passed by the majority of the voters," Ranker said.

The 16 legislators included nine Republican Eastern Washington representatives; five Eastern Washington Republican senators, including caucus leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville; Western Washington Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, who is also chairman of the Senate Energy & Environment Committee; and Sen. Tim Sheldon of Potlatch. Sheldon, while a Democrat, belongs to the Republican-oriented Senate Majority Coalition Caucus. 

The 16 legislators' cited Gov. Jay Inslee's veto on June 30 of a similar cost study in the state budget — approved by the majority of Democrats and Republicans in both chambers — as a reason to seek an independent study from the auditor's office. In his veto message, Inslee wrote that a study of the cost aspect was unnecessary because controls are built into the act. He also said his climate change task force would be looking at possible improvements to the measure.

One focus of the request would be for the auditor's office to explore whether other states count hydropower as a renewable energy source. Washington does not include hydro-power in its alternative energy calculations. If it did so, I-937 would be moot because more than half of Washington’s electricity comes from hydropower. Also, hydro-power is currently cheaper than many, if not all, alternative energy sources.

The letter also asks for the auditor to explore the economic and enviromental effects of the initiative, including whether I-937 saved money for businesses and consumers, caused rates to rise and reduced carbon emissions from power production in the state. 

I-937 has been the subject of almost annual jockeying for changes in the Legislature but with no major modifications resulting so far. Environmental interests and Democratic legislators tend to support the I-937 status quo. Republican legislators, business interests and rural electric utilities tend to push for significant changes.

The majority of the speakers at a Senate energy committee hearing Monday in Richland contended the renewable energy goals translate to extra costs that are being passed onto customers, hurting especially the poor, the Tri-City Herald reported. Seven of the 16 legislators signing the audit request represent the Tri-Cities area.

Ranker said that I-937 has boosted the renewable energy industry, which has translated to numerous new jobs.

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

John Stang is a longtime Inland Northwest newspaper reporter who earned a Masters of Communications in Digital Media degree at the University of Washington. He can be reached by writing

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Posted Tue, Sep 17, 11:02 p.m. Inappropriate

"...numerous new jobs."

A good reporter would have asked for an exact number and settled for a ball park figure.

I did some digging and when I got to this site I clicked the links to find out how many jobs and what they might be. To my surprise the message that appeared on my screen is that the pages no longer exist. It seems that perhaps the state doesn't know what a green job is or where they are located if they even exist.

Then there's the Pew Charitable Trusts study of green jobs, read it here
It's the typical feel good renewable energy article but with a twist, job descriptions. It seems that in the eyes of the authors about the only job not a green job is a burger flipper, and I bet if one considered biodiesel, the burger flipper gets placed under the green job umbrella.

We have a lot of unemployed people in Washington State that need jobs and if expanding the definition of green jobs gets them a job fine, but an administrative assistant isn't a green job except when it comes to the color of money.


Posted Wed, Sep 18, 12:03 a.m. Inappropriate

Green is overused in every way, except by Kermit.

Posted Wed, Sep 18, 5:37 a.m. Inappropriate

"Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, countered that the audit is the latest attempt to neutralize I-937. "It's just another scare by the Republican senators to repeal an initiative passed by the majority of the voters," Ranker said."

No audits of State Programs that were established by initiative Sen. Ranker? Or is it just ones you agree with? If several years down the road the Charter Schools initiative's effectiveness comes into question, will you stand by the will of the people and refuse to audit the program?

As representatives of the taxpayers of Washington in Olympia, we should expect all Legislators of both Political camps to be willing to look at ALL programs for efficientcy and effectiveness on an on-going basis. Annual reviews of all programs and identifying issues early should be standard procedure. Refusing to look because you "like" the idea of the program is not management of taxpayer resources. Don't want a performance audits? Fine, you had better have actual facts generated by other audit means to justify any on-going State Programs. No more sacred cows in the budget.


Posted Wed, Sep 18, 1:32 p.m. Inappropriate

The Legislature repeatedly cut funding for the Auditor's office when Brian Sonntag held the post. Our wise solons obviously don't want to be bothered with all that "accountability" stuff.


Posted Wed, Sep 18, 7:58 a.m. Inappropriate

It's positive to see the Republicans admitting that there is nothing sacred about initiatives and they can be modified by the Legislature at will after two years. Maybe they'll whine a little less when the next Tim Eyman joke law gets repealed.


Posted Wed, Sep 18, 8:16 a.m. Inappropriate

"At least 20 states plus Washington, D.C., have similar laws on their books. The only other Northwest state with such a law is Montana, where utilities must hit the 15 percent mark by 2015."

In fact, 29 states, including Washington, D.C. and 2 U.S. territories have Renewable Portfolio Standards. Oregon also has a RPS, so unless we have kicked them out of the Northwest, the above statement is incorrect. Oregon requires renewable portfolios of 25% by 2025 for large utilities, 10% by 2025 for small utilities, and 5% for the "smallest utilities." It would be more accurate to say that Idaho is the only Northwest state without a Renewable Portfolio Standard.

Posted Wed, Sep 18, 9:08 a.m. Inappropriate

Some big chunks of this story are missing and/or are wrong - for example, the reason that the Governor vetoed the so-called study of I-937 was because all it called for was an analysis of costs - not benefits. Yep, a lopsided economic analysis that doesn't measure costs AND benefits - that would be a good use of taxpayer dollars. Nor does the story mention that I-937 also requires these electric utilities to acquire all cost effective energy conservation - which is GOOD for customers (including low income) and the utilities. And the environment and the economy.

It would also have been helpful for the reporter to include a couple of other salient points - like the quote from Sen Ericksen - the Chair of the Senate Environment Committee! - that questions whether climate change is real and even if it is there isn't any proof that it is human caused.


Posted Wed, Sep 18, 9:59 a.m. Inappropriate

Actually the initiative (now law) says nothing about reducing greenhouse gases. It was about creating jobs and "clean energy" resources. So when the Auditor looks at it, GHG reductions were actually not what the initiative said it would do.

Posted Thu, Sep 19, 10:10 p.m. Inappropriate

The law defines hydro power as non-renewable, which is complete horseshit.


Posted Fri, Sep 20, 11:37 a.m. Inappropriate

I actully agree with you on that one.


Posted Fri, Sep 20, 2:48 p.m. Inappropriate

This is the problem with stupid people. They don't know what they are talking about. Read the law (conveniently quoted below) - it recognizes hydro as renewable.

RCW 19.285.020
Declaration of policy.
Increasing energy conservation and the use of appropriately sited renewable energy facilities builds on the strong foundation of low-cost renewable hydroelectric generation in Washington state and will promote energy independence in the state and the Pacific Northwest region.


Posted Fri, Sep 20, 3:47 p.m. Inappropriate

Actually - what you quoted is a policy position - not a law, which has nothing to do with I-937.

I-937 states:

(10) "Eligible renewable resource" means:
30 (a) Electricity from a generation facility powered by a renewable
31 resource other than fresh water that commences operation after March
32 31, 1999, where: (i) The facility is located in the Pacific Northwest;
33 or (ii) the electricity from the facility is delivered into Washington
34 state on a real-time basis without shaping, storage, or integration
35 services; or
36 (b) Incremental electricity produced as a result of efficiency
37 improvements completed after March 31, 1999, to hydroelectric
38 generation projects owned by a qualifying utility and located in the
1 Pacific Northwest or to hydroelectric generation in irrigation pipes
2 and canals located in the Pacific Northwest, where the additional
3 generation in either case does not result in new water diversions or
4 impoundments.

In other words - existing hydro is not considered renewable. New hydro that diverts or impounds water is not considered renewable.

----so easy on the name-calling, eh?


Posted Sat, Sep 21, 8:06 a.m. Inappropriate

Look. That section is part of the law. Pure and simple. The previous commenter said that the law does not recognize hydro as a renewable resource but it does.

Your point is different. The intent of I-937 is to increase the percentage of our electricity that is produced by clean renewable resources. And there is a long list of eligible renewable resources that can be counted for the purposes of compliance. Of course existing hydro dams are not included in the list: how would counting existing hydro INCREASE the percentage of renewable energy resources?

Too many people are willfully misrepresenting I-937. The fact is that our electric energy supply has to move away from coal and we need clean energy supplies and energy efficiency to replace it. That's what this law is about.


Posted Sat, Sep 21, 2:11 p.m. Inappropriate

It does not include. 1) existing hydro, 2) or new hydro that creates impoundments or diversions. It was meant to encourage hydro on existing irrigation canals and pipes. I work in this field and you are incorrect.

Read the specifics I provided


Posted Fri, Sep 20, 11:34 p.m. Inappropriate

The "progressives," as usual, want their electricity out of sight and out of mind. Once it was coal, nukes, and dams. Now they want to cover the landscapes east of the Cascades, which they hate, with windmills. So much for the wide open spaces. Didn't care then, don't care now.


Posted Sat, Sep 21, 8:16 a.m. Inappropriate

Dang - boy you really caught us "progressives" on that one! Those eastern Washington farmers who now get a decent income with the money they make leasing their land to wind developers really got duped, too, I guess.

Probably has nothing to do with the fact that there is more wind east of the mountains . . . .


Posted Sun, Sep 22, 12:11 p.m. Inappropriate

You're wrong about more wind east of the mountains. The most wind is off of the Oregon coast. "Progressives" hate facts, too.


Posted Sun, Sep 22, 8:20 p.m. Inappropriate

Currently there are no proposals for off shore wind production in the PNW. All of is east of the cascades or just over the cheapest. Developers see no good cost bebefitvrationfor offshore wind. And yes, farmers are getting paid a pretty penny for wind turbines on their land. Offshore wind in the Pacific Northwest is not so viable right now - at some gas price point in the future I suppose it will be.


Posted Mon, Sep 23, 7:11 a.m. Inappropriate

Yea, if I could only type straight. Meant good cost-benefit ratio for offshore wind.

Maybe I'm just not aware of one for offshore wind - if you think it's such a profitable venture maybe you can point me to several in the development stage.

There are a few, very early, attempts to harness tidal energy and wave energy - the PGE tidal turbine and the wave energy project off Westport - but these are only in the small pilot project phase and have no long-term feasibility data yet. I'm not aware of any offshore wind projects even in the early conceptual phase.

So for now, and the near term, wind developers have decided that the most bang for their buck is eastern WA and OR. If the OR coast were such a potential profit center they would have went their first.


Posted Mon, Sep 23, 6:58 p.m. Inappropriate

You're wrong about more wind east of the mountains. The most wind is off of the Oregon coast. "Progressives" hate facts, too.


Hmmmm. Kinda quite. Guess regressives don't like facts either.


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