Keeping WA energy affordable

Keeping WA energy affordable
SHB 2283 would set up a task force to look at how to make Washington's energy production cleaner while considering economic impacts. Created by Dooder - Freepik.com

A consortium of legislation introduced this session aims to reduce the state’s carbon emissions, which are already among the lowest in the nation. On top of a carbon tax, a low carbon fuel standard and accelerating the goals set in 2008 for lowering Washington’s carbon footprint, lawmakers have pushed to make the state carbon free by 2045. However, utility providers and energy-intensive companies have warned of the potential economic blowback should these policies be implemented.

These reservations are in part behind the transformation of Republican-sponsored SHB 2283, which originally would have required utilities to use clean energy sources to generate new electricity starting in 2020, while also providing tax incentives for investment in certain types of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.  It cleared the House Finance Committee Feb. 26, but only after a substitute version all but rewrote the bill entirely.

The change was made after a Feb. 24 public hearing cast doubt on its feasibility. Statehouse observers indicate that the change could have been the result of irreconcilable differences between various stakeholder over what type of “renewable” energy projects would qualify for incentives. However, industry spokespersons also warned that the incentives would not offset the cost to make the transition.

“Moving to a 100-percent fossil-free mandate even by 2045 is an extremely risky path that according to experts is not feasible,” Kathleen Collins with Pacificorp said. “Imposing a fine for baseload generation is no different than imposing a carbon tax.”

Instead, she suggested a stakeholder group to examine the matter.

That is now what SHB 2283 calls for, in the form of a legislative task force to look at how to transition the state’s electricity production to purely carbon-free sources while also taking into consideration potential impacts on the state’s business competitiveness.

Terry Nealey (R-26) stated at the Feb. 24 hearing: “I think our collective goal here is to get to the point where we have reduced carbon greatly out into the future, and to get to that point without damaging or harming economically our ratepayers and all of our consumers in the state of Washington.”

However, the numerous revisions were enough for Finance member and House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox (R-2) to oppose it. “I’m going to be no, not because I don’t want it to go forward. This has had so many different versions,” adding that “it has become so much less a labor of love” than the initial version.

Rep. Gerry Pollet (D-46) urged support, arguing that “this is a work in progress” tied together with other carbon reduction legislation also considered by Finance.

Currently, Washington state has among the lowest energy rates in the nation. It’s a fact highlighted by the state Department of Commerce’s Choose Washington website. In some areas, the rates can run as low as $.0288 per kilowatt, while the average industrial employer pays an average of $.0413 per kilowatt. Much of that is due to the fact that 75 percent of the state’s energy is produced through the largest hydroelectric system in the world, with the state Department of Ecology reporting a total of 1,166 dams. It’s an advantage for the state’s energy-intensive employers, but that also means rising costs can harm their ability to compete with out of state rivals.

If passed, SHB 2283 would have the head of each legislative chamber appoint two members, one from each party, to serve on the task force. They would also appoint members from stakeholder groups such as public and private utilities, the Department of Commerce, the state Utilities and Transportation Commission and the Bonneville Power Administration.

The task force would examine the “technological feasibility, timeline, cost, and other impacts” to make the transition toward 100 percent clean energy. The members would also consider these factors should the state approve a carbon tax, as well. A December 2017 E3 study found that of three major options, a direct price on carbon was the most cost-effective way to reduce emissions, while a renewable portfolio standard was the most expensive.

SHB 2283 has been referred to the Rules Committee for review.

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