‘Double paying’ for clean energy hurts consumers

March 8, 2014 

The Bonneville Power Administration, which provides much of the power in the Pacific Northwest, wants to finish a project near an ancient-village site on land that runs past this bridge and around the bend on the Columbia River.

STEVE RINGMAN — Seattle Times

Nobody likes to pay twice for the same thing. Our inherent understanding of value and fairness encompasses this fact.

Yet here in Washington state, energy consumers continually see their rates increase as they are forced to pay twice for energy efficiency upgrades as a direct result of the Energy Investment Act (EIA), passed by voters a few years back as Initiative 937. This ratepayer inequality epitomizes the notion of “unforeseen circumstances” and is something that can – and should – be rectified.

The EIA mandates that large utilities obtain 15 percent of their electricity through renewable resources. While it fails to recognize hydropower as clean energy (one of the only states that fails to do so), it does allow utilities to count efficiency improvements to certain existing hydro projects towards the new law’s green-energy mandate. These are upgrades or changes that allow more electricity to be produced from the same amount of water.

But here’s where the double jeopardy part comes in. The EIA very specifically does not recognize any efficiency upgrades made to the federal hydro system marketed by the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA).

This is unfortunate as ratepayers have paid millions of dollars to help these hydro systems become more energy-efficient through incremental rate increases.

In essence, the hydro systems and the consumers engaged in a good-faith effort to make better use of what we have, but are now being punished for those efforts by having to pay twice — once on the front end, and now again through mandated compliance via the purchase of renewable energy credits or more expensive in-state power, whether they need it or not.

This “double paying” hurts all Washingtonians but is particularly painful to minority communities and the poor, who tend to pay a greater percentage of their income towards energy costs.

We have a solution.

Senate Bill 6058 would allow some incremental electricity produced by efficiency improvements to hydro projects to qualify as an eligible renewable resource. It is our belief that the millions of Washingtonians who have already paid for these efficiency improvements to hydro projects should be able to see the benefits of those improvements.

This small, simple allowance is a far cry from “gutting” Initiative 937’s original intent. Our proposal is a small, commonsense compromise that recognizes the need for new investments in clean energy technologies while at the same time recognizing the work — and consumer payments — already undertaken.

Our families need electricity, and they need jobs so they can afford it. SB 6058 would help provide both by allowing our utilities to pass any cost savings on to their customers. This not only provides a lifeline to families who must make the difficult choice between paying the light bill and putting food on the table; it may very well help to create the job or pay raise that family desperately needs.

Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, represents the 8th Legislative District. Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy, represents the 7th Legislative District.

The Olympian is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service