Northwest Renewable News

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Clean-Energy initiative changes not done yet in Wash. April 18, 2009

Environmentalists will have to reboot their compromise on changes to a voter-approved clean energy initiative, after a deal struck in the Legislature’s waning days fell apart Friday night.

The agreed-to bill would have eased some of the requirements of Initiative 937, which directs utilities with more than 25,000 customers to get 15 percent of their power from new sources like wind or solar by 2020.

But that deal began to fall apart Friday, prompting environmentalist Democrats to scrap their plans and use some legislative maneuvering to keep the compromise bill in play for another possible vote.

“The agreed-upon bill should be approved. I see that as the path forward,” said Rep. Dave Upthegrove, D-Des Moines.

“We have another week of session remaining to work with the House and the Senate to make it more suitable,” said Pearse Edwards, spokesman for Gov. Chris Gregoire.

I-937 was approved by voters in 2006. But Senate Democrats have pushed this year for changes that would give utilities more flexibility.

The compromise plan debated Friday in the House would have given electric utilities some wiggle room to meet the initiative’s green energy requirements, while also raising slightly the final power target in 2020.

But once it became clear that changes to the compromise plan might be approved by the House, a group of environmentalist Democrats unexpectedly lined up with Republicans to add a “poison pill” amendment that allowed vast amounts of hydropower to count toward green-energy targets.

The measure eventually passed the House on a 57-40 vote. But with the bill now amended so drastically, the greens could be assured the Senate and governor won’t go along with the changes.

That means the bill is likely to head to a conference committee, where the House and Senate could restore the agreed-to bill and send it back for a final, yes-or-no vote.

Washington Public Utility Districts Association spokesman Dean Boyer said the compromise bill, while not ideal, still allows utilities some flexibility.

“It opens up alternatives,” he said, in part by letting utilities purchase eligible renewable power from anywhere on the Western power grid, instead of just Northwest states.

Clifford Traisman, a lobbyist for Washington Conservation Voters and the Washington Environmental Council, said environmentalists’ support is tied a separate bill that gives sales tax breaks for renewable energy projects.

“The sales tax exemption is the carrot that has brought this industry to Washington state, and we don’t want to lose that carrot or the industry,” Traisman said Friday.

Even though altering I-937 is “kind of a dicey proposition” for environmentalists, they felt the additional tax breaks would strengthen renewable power development in Washington.

“In balance, it’s a deal that we can live with,” Traisman said.

The renewable energy bill is Senate Bill 5840.

AP writers Phuong Le in Seattle and Curt Woodward in Olympia contributed to this report.

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