Stakeholders urge caution with green energy push

Stakeholders urge caution with green energy push
SB 5116 aims to make Washington state’s electricity 100 percent clean by 2045. Utility providers say it’s a goal that can be achieved, but the proposal needs to maintain the state’s low energy rates and ensure system reliability. Photo:

One of Governor Jay Inslee’s green energy proposals announced in December is to have Washington state utilities generate carbon-free electricity by 2030 and 100 percent clean energy by 2045. SB 5116 aims to achieve that, starting with making electricity greenhouse gas neutral by 2030.

Testimony provided by utility providers at a Jan. 17 public hearing of the Senate Environment, Energy & Technology Committee indicated that the state can achieve that goal, but some amendments are needed to ensure that the energy provided is reliable and affordable.

“It is not without risk and challenges,” Avistacorps Manager of Washington State Government Relations John Rothlin told panel members. “The bill attempts to deal with reliability, but does so as issues arise or in some cases after the fact. We want a more forward approach.”

Washington is already one of the lowest carbon-emitting states in the nation, thanks to its system of hydroelectric dams that generates 68 percent of the state’s electricity and allow Washingtonians to enjoy the second lowest electricity rates in the nation.

Those rates are also “one of Washington key competitiveness advantages,” Peter Godlewski told legislators. Godlewski is the governor affairs director for environmental policy at the Association of Washington Business.

He added that the ideal outcome is a bill that “combines the best interest of our environment and business community.”

In addition to energy-intense industries, those low prices are important for residents at or below the federal poverty. Rothlin said that 85,000 of their Washington customers fit that description, and as a result are “very sensitive to rate impacts.”

Similar caution was stressed by Pacificorps lobbyist Kathleen Collins, who said the bill needs to ensure customers won’t “incur unreasonable costs” while offering a reasonable path for utilities to eliminate the use of carbon.

SB 5116 is sponsored by Chair Reuven Carlyle (D-36) and cosponsored by 16 Democrats including Co-chair Guy Palumbo (D-1). Its companion bill is HB 1211, sponsored by House Majority Floor Leader Gael Tarleton (D-26); it is scheduled for a Jan. 22 public hearing in the Environment & Energy Committee.

At SB 5116’s public hearing, Carlyle said “we have the type of economy that can make this happen. We know that we can move toward a renewable energy economy in a dramatic fashion that recognizes the unique nature of our state.”

As currently written, utilities would have to provide electricity generated by 100 percent non-emitting and renewable energy sources by 2045 and demonstrated compliance by 2046. Utilities would also have to develop 10-year and 20-year clean energy action plans.

However, the transition away from carbon “it will require expensive investments,” according to Godlewski. Currently, 14 percent of the state’s electricity is generated from coal, according to a 2017 state Department of Commerce report. Roughly 10 percent of electricity comes from natural gas, while nuclear energy contributes to four percent. Clean energy sources such as wind makes up two percent of state electricity, while solar energy’s contribution is negligible.

Godlewski warned that phasing down the use of carbon could pose “grave risk for the stability of the electrical grid,” because fossil fuel-generated energy is “the key to balancing loads.”

Addressing utility lobbyists at the public hearing, Carlyle said “I don’t think anybody here is in any way unappreciative of the enormous weight both legally and fiduciarily you have around reliability. So we want to figure that out.”

No further action is scheduled for the bill, though Carlyle stated at the public hearing he hopes to take executive action sometime this week.


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