I-937 drives us toward new renewables

The Boeing Co.’s recent announcement that it will no longer use energy generated by fossil fuels shows its willingness to help Gov. Jay Inslee lead this state toward a sustainable future. Unfortunately, several state senators plan to use the aerospace giant’s clean energy commitment to try to eviscerate Washington’s 2007 citizen Initiative 937, known as the Energy Independence Act.

The law requires large utilities to get at least 15 percent of their power from new renewable resources by 2020. It also requires the utilities to actively promote energy conservation among their customers.

Last month, after the governor announced his 2015-17 budget, which includes a new carbon emissions tax, Boeing said it would use only renewable energy to manufacture its 737 airliners. Eschewing coal, natural gas and other fossil fuels, Boeing said it will invest in wind power credits and use more hydropower.

That’s great news, and a positive response to Inslee’s “polluters pay” plan to raise state revenue and achieve cleaner air and water.

Conservative voices from Eastern Washington now say that if Boeing regards hydropower as a renewable energy source, the state should, too.

It’s a ridiculous argument. Of course the state recognizes hydropower as a renewable source. That wasn’t the point of I-937.

The law excludes hydropower, even though it is a clean energy source, because it’s been around for decades, supplying 74 percent of our energy. (The federal government had the foresight to build hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River starting in the 1930s.) The point of the initiative was to require utilities to develop new sources of renewable energy, such as wind, solar, geothermal and others, to reduce the use of coal and other dirty fuels, which still account for one-quarter of our electricity.

Allowing utilities to count hydropower as a new strategy for reducing greenhouse gases would make the law meaningless.

Not all of the state’s public utility districts see the law as a financial burden. Those PUDs that embraced the Energy Independence Act and made investments in new renewables continue to support the law and oppose those who would weaken or rescind it.

Peninsula Light Co., for example, got on board early with four other Northwest public utilities to create Harvest Wind, a wind farm located near Goldendale. It began producing 99 megawatts of power from 43 turbines in mid-2009. This single investment will enable PenLight to meet the 15 percent requirement by 2020.

Other utilities could have made similar investments. Instead, many have chosen to back repeal of the initiative, and have found support from ultra-conservatives like Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick. She proposed a bill last year to thwart the state’s clean energy efforts, and will promote it again during this session.

Brown represents those who would turn the clock back to a time when industries dumped toxic waste into our waterways and smokestacks spewed carcinogenic pollutants 24 hours a day.

Our abundant hydroelectric power doesn’t absolve us from the responsibility to discover, test and perfect new and better sources of renewable energy. This work cannot stop until we have completely eliminated our reliance on fossil fuels.