When a state senator doesn’t understand the purpose of a law, or the citizens’ initiative that created it, she might see no harm in reversing it. That must be the explanation for Sen. Sharon Brown’s (R-Kennewick) latest attempt to eviscerate Washington’s Energy Independence Act, Initiative 937.
Brown introduced a bill that would change the 2007 law to count incremental energy created by hydroelectric efficiencies toward the renewable energy goals for power utilities. Her Senate colleagues passed the measure 28-20.
Under the law created by I-937, large utilities must get 9 percent of their power from new renewable resources and at least 15 percent by 2020. The law also requires them to actively promote energy conservation among its customers, in effect, reducing demand for its own product.
The law purposely excludes hydropower, even though it is a clean energy source. Washington already generates 74 percent of its energy from hydropower. The point of the initiative was to encourage utilities to develop new sources of renewable energy, such as wind, solar, geothermal and others.
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Allowing utilities to count hydropower would make the law meaningless.
Because past generations of Washingtonians had the foresight to build hydroelectric dams doesn’t release this generation, or future ones, from the responsibility to discover, test and perfect other sources of renewable energy. This work cannot stop until we have eliminated our reliance on fossil fuels.
Slightly more than a quarter of Washington’s energy comes from coal- or gas-burning power plants, the source of dangerous carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Without an incentive to close that gap, utilities would rest on the laurels of hydropower.
Brown’s bill is a front for many of the state’s public utility districts, which have tried several times to get out from under the burden of developing wind and solar power generation. Brown has taken their financial argument to a ridiculous extreme.
“People are suffering in this economy, and every dollar spent on higher utility bills is a dollar that can’t be spent on food or rent, or by an employer to put some Washingtonians desperate for a job back to work.”
An examination of the utilities’ 2012 filings required by I-937 – conducted by the Northwest Energy Coalition and Climate Solutions – shows that the law was not responsible for any rate increases.
Washington already has the third lowest electrical rates in America. Consumers, businesses and the economy in general are not suffering because of our quest for clean energy. Brown’s scare tactics run contrary to the facts.
Thanks to the New Deal’s Rural Electrification Act of 1935 and the 20th-century builders of Washington’s dams, our state runs on mostly clean energy. But it’s no time to coast.
Until Americans have found non-carbon-emitting sources for 100 percent of our energy needs, the state’s Energy Independence Act should not be compromised.