Northwest Renewable News

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Wash. House re-Writes voters renewable energy standard April 17, 2009

The House got into a scramble this evening in a floor fight over Initiative 937’s renewable energy standards.

In the end, the House voted on a 57-40 to send Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5840 in a form that, in effect, guts the original initiative, which voters adopted in 2006 by a narrow margin.

The new bill lets all hydropower from dams, which most utilities use as their major power source, to be counted toward utilities’ renewable energy portfolio. Under I-937, utilities were supposed to begin adding new renewable power sources such as wind, solar and energy conservation.

Environmentalists and conservative Republicans teamed up to add the “hydro” language, which House Republican Leader Richard DeBolt of Chehalis offered in an amendment. But a number of Democrats hoping to kill the bill jumped in to vote for the amendment. Their goal: Make the bill totally unacceptable to the Senate and maybe keep it off the governor’s desk.

“We put a poison pill in it,” said Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, who voted for the amendment and then voted against the final bill. “Some people think that’s a poison pill.’’

Democratic Reps. Brendan Williams of Olympia, Hans Dunshee of Snohomish and Dave Upthegrove of Des Moines were among those who voted for the amendment but not the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, is among Democrats who have wanted to revise the initiative, which can be done by a simple majority vote two years after voters pass an initiative into law. In this column, Brown explains her reasons, including concerns about rising costs for consumers and a desire to give utilities some flexibility in meeting goals by buying power from out of state or using hydro.

But environmentalists see the revision of the initiative before its terms take effect in 2012 as an attempt to gut the voter’s goal. See this Olympian story.

House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, said she doesn’t expect the amended measure to go anywhere in the Senate, which has to concur on any amendments. “Adding the hydro has really gutted the initiative,” she said. “I thought it was a way to kill this bill. … It was a good strategy, if that killed the bill.’’

Hudgins and Dunshee said in floor speeches there should be no hurry to change I-937 because key requirements do not take effect until 2012.

UPDATE: I just got an email from Rep. Williams, in which he expressed “his astonishment” at the House vote to, in effect, repeal the initiative.

“If the Senate concurs, Washington will become the first state to actually repeal renewable energy portfolio standards,” he wrote, noting that he and fellow 22nd district Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, also voted against the bill on final passage. Democratic Rep. Fred Finn of Thurston County also voted against it.

And Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Thurston County, has opposed a rewrite of I-937.

But Republicans from South Sound supported the new bill, including DeBolt, Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Thurston County, and Rep. Jim McCune of Graham; Rep. Kathy Haigh, D-Shelton, also voted for the amended bill along with several Pierce County lawmakers.

Kessler said there appeared to be interest from Pierce County in helping Tacoma’s utility meet its portfolio goals with hydro.

Brad Shannon, The Politics Blog, The Olympian


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