In 2006, the voters of Washington passed Initiative 937, The Clean Energy Initiative. This initiative mandated that utilities ramp up the percentage of their energy portfolios coming from renewable sources including wind and solar to 9% by 2016 and 15% of their total portfolio by 2020.
Unsurprisingly, as we come closer to that target period, there are utilities and power generators that are either uncomfortable with the goals or are feeling the pinch as energy transitions from some non-renewables, including hydro and coal. This year, we have a raft of bills in Washington- 19 of them! – that seek to make changes to I 937.I haven’t read them all, but I did look at a few, including HB 1347, SB 5298, and SB5431, which seek to limit or change the progress of these renewables goals to the benefit of certain providers.
HB 1347 allows for additional incremental hydroelectric power associated with efficiency improvements to count as a “renewable” power source, displacing other renewables. SB 5298 allows for a limited amount of coal power to be purchased from the Centralia plant which is transitioning off of coal between 2020 and 2025. My best guess for the need for this bill, given who has spoken in support of it, is the plant and its supporters that are trying to soften the blow of this phaseout. And SB5431 pretty much flat out wants to add hydroelectric power as a renewable energy that qualifies for the renewable energy portfolio under I937.
While not a carbon emission issue (as Ive talked about before, hydro is far more benign from a carbon emission standpoint than fossil-fuel based energy), there are plenty who would argue that the severe impacts of hydroelectric power on fisheries and riverine ecology would discount its inclusion as a renewable energy in the broadest sense of that term, certainly not in the way that we think of solar and wind having more minor (though not nonexistent) environmental impacts, and therefore it cannot be placed in the same category as solar and wind. As for the coal transition power bill, the amount of coal purchasing power they are talking about is pretty small, but its important to note that I937 was designed specifically to move us away from non-renewable fuel sources; adding them back in is certainly not in the spirit or the letter of that document. It seems to me that if there are concerns about the economic stability of the phase-out of the Centralia plant, there are other mechanisms, like tax deferments or loans, that might better serve that transition without compromising the integrity of this initiative.
So I have written to the members of on the House Environment and Senate Energy committees urging them not to undermine the substantive progress our state has made towards achieving the goals of I937, and you can too: Signon.org and Washington Environmental Priorities Coalition both have petitions started to ask these committees to not pass bills that undermine the integrity of I 937. I will be watching the progress of these bills to see if they move forward to general votes and therefore need follow up with our individual representatives.