Negotiations continue on clean energy bill

Negotiations continue on clean energy bill
As ESSB 5116 moves through the state House, utility associations and stakeholders continue to advocate for provisions now included in the bill regarding rate increases and system reliability. Photo: freepik.com

A Senate proposal to put Washington state on the path toward 100 percent clean energy is advancing through the House after clearing the Committee on Environment & Energy on Mar. 19. Although the bill provoked stern criticism from some Republican lawmakers on the Senate floor just prior to its Mar. 5 passage from that chamber, stakeholders at a Mar. 21 public hearing of the Finance Committee argued that the proposal includes critical provisions intended to protect ratepayers from prices surges while ensuring system reliability. At the same time, they say some additional changes are needed.

“It does present risk for our businesses and our customers,” John Rothlin with Avista Corps told the committee. “If we can eliminate those risks – and we believe we can – we’re prepared to support this bill.”

ESSB 5116, sponsored by Senate Environment, Energy & Technology Chair Reuven Carlyle (D-36), is one of several environmental bills moving through the legislature aimed at reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. The bill requires utility providers to offer electricity that is carbon neutral by 2030, and provides standards for the utilities to meet a 100-percent renewable energy goal by 2045.

Among the provisions recommended by utilities is a cost-cap that prevents energy rates from increasing too quickly as a result of compliance requirements – though an error in the current version of the bill makes it a cost floor rather than cap.

“The best way for you to look at that is this is an investment opportunity for us,” Brandon Housekeeper with Puget Sound Energy (PSE) told the committee after informing them about the bill language error. PSE is “other” on the bill.

The proposal’s standards can also be suspended if it would threaten the reliability of the system.

“We’re trying to be thoughtful and responsible about getting them (utilities) a regulatory framework that works,” Carlyle told colleagues at the Mar. 21 public hearing.

Another provision waives the penalties for not meeting the 100-percent clean mandate by 2045. Tim Boyd with the Alliance of Western Energy Consumers says giving utilities a “little wiggle room” on the 100 percent requirement “is much easier and much less expensive. You get almost all of the same environmental benefit.”

The updated bill also includes amendments added prior to passage by the Senate regarding the use of hydroelectricity produced by certain federal efficiency projects, though Nicholas Garcia with the Washington Public Utility Districts Association told the committee that the association “fundamentally rejects any limitations on the use of clean, renewable and low-cost hydro resources to serve any customer.”

Still opposed to the bill is the Associated General Contractors (AGC), due to a provision related to a sales tax exemption on clean energy projects. In order to qualify for the exemption, private projects must adhere to a labor agreement and prevailing wage, which AGC lobbyist Jerry Vanderwood said would “wipe out the savings of the exemption.” He added that the bill would make the state a “market regulator” in violation of the National Labor Relations Act.

ESSB 5116 is scheduled for executive action on Mar. 29.

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