Environmentalists, utilities at odds over green power

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An electric vehicle plugs into a CenturyLink Field charging station.

Opinions on a bill to tweak alternative power requirements for utilities followed the stereotypes Tuesday.

Utilities and business lobbyists loved it. Environmentalists hated it.

They gave their opinions at a Washington House Technology & Economic Development Committee hearing on the measure, which is sponsored by Sen. Doug Ericksen, R- Ferndale. The Senate recently passed his bill 26-to-23, mostly along party lines.

Passed by voters in 2006, Initiative 937 requires that 15 percent of state utilities’ 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 still-to-be-reached goals that include a 9 percent share of alternatives by 2016.

Overall, 17 power utilities in Washington are covered by I-937. The law’s purpose is to cut down on the emission of greenhouse gases by generating more electricity from renewable resources.

Ericksen's bill would give those utilities a choice between continuing to seeking alternative power sources or reducing carbon emissions by other means. Those would be investing in electric vehicle charging stations, converting their own vehicles to using liquefied natural gas, or tackling other carbon-reduction measures.

People testifying against the bill argued that it would not reduce carbon emissions. Instead, they argued that it merely allows utilities to swap a non-carbon power source for a non-carbon way of transportation. They argued I-937 is working well as it is.

Referring to Ericksen’s bill, Joni Bosch of the Northwest Energy Coalition, "This path weakens our current effective law."

"We do not believe (the bill) results in carbon reduction," said Cliff Traisman, representing the Washington Environmental Council.

The bill's supporters argued that it gives utilities more options in running their operations in cost-effective ways while meeting I-937's goals. "This would broaden the scope of I-937. We want technologies to compete based on the value of reducing carbon," said Isaac Kastama, representing the Washington Business Alliance.

The bill would help utilities pursue innovative ways to reduce carbon emissions, said Dave Warren, representing the Washington Public Utility Districts Association.

Lauren McCloy, a policy analyst with the Washington Utilities & Transportation Commission, testified that implementing the bill would require complicated and possibly contentious efforts to write standards to use in measuring the effectiveness of utilities’ new carbon-reductions strategies.

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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at johnstang_8@hotmail.com and on Twitter at @johnstang_8