Committee passes renewable energy bill

Committee passes renewable energy bill
SSB 6253, which would create a path for carbon-free energy in Washington by 2045, has cleared the Senate Ways and Means Committee after its latest public hearing that was notably absent of industry members testifying in opposition. The bill’s most vocal critics at the February meeting were environmentalists who took issue with the bill’s neutral stance on nuclear energy. Photo: studentenergy.org

Roughly 75 percent of Washington’s energy production is carbon-free. Proponents of SSB 6253 want to set up a timeline for utility providers to reduce the remaining 25 percent to zero by 2045, and this week they’re one step closer to full Senate approval.

Senate Ways and Means gave the bill a “do pass” recommendation to a substitute version of the bill February 6, the same day a low carbon fuel standard bill cleared the House Transportation Committee.

Incidentally, the only testifiers at its February 5 public hearing opposed to the bill were environmentalists critical of its neutral stance regarding nuclear energy. Industry members at its initial public hearing cited the findings of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s 2016 Seventh Power Plan, which found that attempting to reach the 2045 benchmark could cost $20 billion and still not be achieved.

The bill would require private and public utilities to reduce the total amount of electrical energy produced by fossil fuel from 2017 levels as follows:

  • 25 percent by 2030;
  • 50 percent by 2035;
  • 75 percent by 2040; and
  • 100 percent by 2045

The state legislature in 2008 set the following carbon emission reduction goals:

  • By 2020, reduce emissions to 1990 levels;
  • By 2035, reduce emissions to 25 percent below 1990 levels; and
  • By 2050, reduce overall emissions to half of 1990 levels

Additionally, utility providers would have to eliminate all coal-generated energy by 2030. Each utility provider would have to submit an annual report to the state Department of Commerce on its progress towards those goals. Failure to meet these deadlines would result in a production-based fee that would increase at every threshold level. Meanwhile, Commerce would be required to complete three studies by 2019 on barriers to low-income customers potentially harmed by increased rates.

However, the substitute bill eliminates a provision from the original legislation requiring that all utility providers use carbon-free resources to meet new electricity needs.

Prime sponsor Sen. Kevin Ranker (D-40) told colleagues prior to the bill vote that it “continues to move us in the transition away from fossil fuels, getting us closer and closer as a state…in truly being 100 percent clean. I believe it’s our state’s commitment to reduce climate and air pollution, and this bill gets us in that direction.”

The proposal is similar to that of SB 100 in California, which failed to clear the state legislature last year. It too would have set goals for zero carbon-based energy by 2045.

The bill still managed to draw criticism from various environmental groups including the Sierra Club and the Northwest Energy Coalition for not explicitly prohibiting the use of nuclear energy. Ranker responded by pointing out that SB 100 took a similar stance on nuclear energy as his bill, yet drew praise from the Sierra Club in California.

Explicitly prohibiting nuclear energy could only make the bill’s goals more difficult to reach. That’s according to Energy Northwest, a consortium of utilities from across Washington state. Its Twitter handler wrote late last month that “the reality is adding renewables and eliminating fossil is a difficult task. Why make it harder by limiting our clean energy resources, like nuclear?”

The bill has been referred to the Rules Committee for second reading.

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