Renewable energy has muscled its way onto the 2009 Legislature’s agenda.
As of Wednesday, lawmakers had introduced 16 bills to amend Initiative 937, the voter-approved 2006 measure that requires utilities to ramp up their purchase of solar, wind and geothermal energy beginning in 2012.
The reason for the intense interest: This is the first session since its passage that the law can be amended by a simple majority vote.
Under the Energy Independence Act, every Washington electric utility serving at least 25,000 customers must use renewable energy to meet at least 3 percent of its energy load by 2012, at least 9 percent by 2016, and at least 15 percent by 2020.
The law defines “eligible renewable resources” as wind, solar, geothermal, landfill and sewage gases, wave and tidal power, and certain kinds of biomass and biodiesel fuels. The law also requires utilities to meet specific energy conservation targets beginning in 2010.
Clark Public Utilities weighed in at a Senate committee hearing Wednesday in favor of language in a bill sponsored by Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane. Senate Bill 5840 would allow utilities to count conservation efforts toward meeting their renewable energy targets before they are forced to turn to the purchase of renewable energy or energy credits. A House bill introduced by Rep. Jaime Herrera, R-Ridgefield, would accomplish the same thing.
“We are advocating that we should first use conservation and then go to additional generation,” utility spokesman Dean Sutherland said. As it is now written, he said, “The initiative pushes you toward generation.”
The change could save Clark ratepayers $59 million by 2028, Sutherland said.
The utility also favors a change in the Senate bill that would permit utilities to buy renewable power from throughout the Western United States and Canada, instead of limiting their purchases to the Pacific Northwest.
That would make it possible to buy reliable solar energy from California and to purchase abundant wind energy from Montana in the winter, when it’s scarce in the Northwest, Sutherland said.
Those changes are modest compared to others.
Some bills would let utilities count hydroelectric power and the burning of construction debris, food waste and wood waste products toward meeting their goals.
Some would push back the retroactive date for counting renewable energy purchases from 1999 to 1995.
A bill introduced by Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, and co-sponsored by six other Republicans, would count all hydroelectric generation in the Pacific Northwest as a renewable energy resource that utilities could count toward meeting their goal.
On average, hydro makes up 50 percent of the Northwest’s energy generating capacity.
“The cumulative effect of all the weakening amendments would be that the 2020 standard has already been met and thus nothing needs to be done,” said Marc Krasnowsky, communications director for the Northwest Energy Coalition.
“We’re talking about building our energy future,” Krasnowsky said. “Making the hydro system more efficient is great, but we need to diversify and we need to build a market for new renewables. Hydro isn’t going to get us there. The choice is between new non-hydro renewables and fossil fuels.”
Initiative 937 is the cornerstone of the state’s strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, yet Oregon, California and Idaho all have adopted stricter renewable energy targets than Washington in the past three years, Krasnowsky said.
The renewable energy law has been a boon to the Port of Vancouver, one of the top importers of wind turbines on the West Coast. In a business roundtable with Gov. Chris Gregoire last week, Roby Roberts of Vesta America Wind Technology, which manufactures giant wind turbines, urged the governor to protect the law.
“We’re in 63 countries, and this is one of the best ports in the world for us,” Roberts said. “One of the things to keep the momentum going is to make sure I-937 is not changed.”
The port is scheduled to announce a new cargo-handling agreement today.
In the Columbia River Gorge, SDS Lumber Co. President Jason Spadaro is counting on the law to create a strong demand for wind energy as he moves forward with proposal to develop a wind farm on the company’s property and adjacent state trust land.
By Kathie Durbin, Columbian – http://www.columbian.com/article/20090205/NEWS02/702059937