Washington State GOP Pushes Renewable Mandate Revision

Published March 30, 2015

Washington State Senate Republicans want to revise the state’s renewable energy mandate to reduce the cost burden on utilities’customers. Senate Bill 5735 would allow utilities to meet state-mandated renewable energy targets by investing in non-electricity-sector programs that cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The bill sponsored by state Sen. Doug Ericksen (R), chairman on the Senate Energy, Environment, and Telecommunications Committee, passed the Senate March 9, 2015.

Todd Myers, environmental director at the state-based Washington Policy Center, calls SB 5735 “a step in the right direction.” Although Myers objects to renewable mandates, he says the bill is a positive step to help reduce the potentially high cost of Washington’s energy regulations.

“If the goal is to reduce carbon emissions, we should reward any activity that achieves that goal. Giving utilities more options to meet that goal drives down the cost while increasing the chance of success. Currently, the law is so restrictive there is basically only one way to meet the targets: wind power. These proposed changes would increase the options for compliance,” Myers said.

Changes to the Standard

Ericksen’s bill would credit investments in projects such as electric vehicle charging stations, converting fleets to alternative fuels, carbon sequestration projects, and energy conservation programs. Utilities would receive credits for each project a third party verifies reduced carbon emissions, as long as the utility invests 1 percent of its annual revenue in such projects. These credits would count toward meeting the state’s current standard of delivering 15 percent of each utility’s electrical power from renewables by 2020.

Ericksen argues Washington’s current renewable standard increases the utility sector’s greenhouse gas emissions because it dismisses hydroelectric generation and because the extremely variable nature of wind generation requires greater use of fossil fuel-fired power plants to balance loads.

The prospect for passage of SB 5735 is unclear. Although Republicans have a majority in the Senate, where the bill has garnered the support of one Democrat, Maralyn Chase, Democrats control Washington State’s House of Representatives, where there appears to be little support for the effort.

Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.