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Fixing state's Energy Independence Act requires action, not words

September 27, 2013 J

Last week’s state Senate hearing in Richland on Washington’s Energy Independence Act was a welcome step but left us less than optimistic about the prospects for a sane energy policy anytime soon.

The act is based on Initiative 937, which was approved by about 52 percent of state voters in 2006, and legislators are unlikely to oppose that mandate.

In addition, the Energy Independence Act sounds “green,” which can be as good as being green when it comes to appealing to environmental voters. Don’t look for many lawmakers representing Western Washington districts to challenge the act.

It’s too bad because the state could do a lot better than follow the provisions of I-937. The initiative adds needless energy costs for consumers and forces utilities to take actions that aren’t the best choice for the environment.

About 85 people attended the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee’s hearing last week, pointing out unintended consequences of the act.

Utilities with at least 25,000 customers are required under the act to buy at least 3 percent of their power from eligible renewable resources, such as wind and solar, and increase that to 9 percent in 2016 and 15 percent in 2020 — or purchase renewable energy credits.

The act has encouraged investment in windmills, which any road trip around Eastern Washington will verify. That might sound like an environmentally friendly development, but it’s not. Because utilities are being forced to invest in “green” generating systems that they don’t need, the environment loses.

Benton Public Utility District, for example, has enough power under contract to serve its customers until 2020, said General Manager Chad Bartram but must spend more to comply with the act.

Forcing utilities to buy energy they don’t need to meet arbitrary mandates doesn’t make sense. The cheaper, clean hydropower Washington utilities could be using will be sold elsewhere, probably California.

 

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