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.
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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.

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.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Tom James

Tom James

Tom James is a feature writer and photographer from Kingston, Washington, who has reported from Seattle, Olympia, Guatemala, Jordan, and the Olympic Peninsula on topics ranging from drug use in the Navy to the silent epidemic of PTSD among refugees and what happens when fathers are deported. You can find his contact information at