On the heels of a letter from forest-based industry leaders insisting that proposed legislation would keep utility rates low for customers and improve the state’s business climate, Governor Jay Inslee made the legislation law, allowing businesses to count electricity created by biomass as renewable energy under the state’s Energy Independence Act.
The signing of SB 5128 last week came as a relief to bill proponents after the original signing ceremony was postponed by a week for further review of the bill, causing some to fear Inslee might veto it as he did its predecessor, SB 6166. Statehouse sources indicate that the delay was due solely to personal concerns that Inslee, and not his staff, had about the bill that may have also inspired him to veto SB 6166 last session.
Olympia observers also note that Inslee supported the passage of I-937, which was approved by Washington voters in 2006. The law stipulates that utility companies with 25,000 customers or more meet certain percentages for renewable energy as the total electricity provided to ratepayers. In 2020 it will increase from the current 9 percent to 15 percent.
While electricity generated by biomass from new plants counts as renewable energy, it does not if the energy is created as part of a plant upgrade. With the passage of SB 5128, the electricity produced from biomass projects created after January 1, 2010 will qualify as renewable. The bill’s primary beneficiary is KapStone Paper and Packaging in Longview; its energy consumption is 70 percent renewable.
The bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Dean Takko (D-19), met several times with the governor prior to the signing. In a statement, Takko said the bill will allow companies that have invested in renewable energy projects to recoup their costs and help maintain the local economy.
“When businesses make the effort to invest in renewable energy, we ought to find ways to meet them halfway and make it easier to operate at lower costs,” he said. “Allowing paper mills like Longview’s KapStone, which employs 1,100 people, to sell off excess power will help keep jobs in our rural communities.”
Other lawmakers instrumental in ensuring the bill’s passage into law were Reps. Jim Walsh (R-19) and Brian Blake (D-19), as well as SB 51828 cosponsor Sen. Ann Rivers (R-18); Blake and Walsh were the primary sponsor and cosponsor respectively for SB 5128’s companion bill, HB 1519.
Northwest Pulp and Paper Association Executive Director Chris McCabe told Lens that “Inslee took a fair amount of wrangling between himself and Senator Takko. Sounds like Senator Takko stood his ground with the bill and was insistent that it be signed, so we’re very appreciative of him on this thing.”
The bill takes effect on July 23.