The Energy Activist Update, Feb. 2014: Defending and advancing clean energy in Northwest state legislatures

NW Energy Coalition staff, members and allies are working to protect our clean energy future in legislative sessions in three of our four Northwest states.

Here are some of the things we’re working on:

Idaho

Just like last year, energy discussions are scarce in the 2014 Idaho Legislature. Only two energy-related bills have been introduced and only one of those is relevant to our concerns.

House Bill 506 would chop away at a state tax exemption for wind farm owners. Specifically, it would limit tax advantages for renewable energy developments to real property that is directly producing electricity. Other property, such as snowcats and other vehicles to access wind turbines or business equipment, would no longer be eligible for tax relief.

HB 506 also would apply to geothermal projects of which Idaho has one: U.S. Geothermal’s Raft River plant, the first in the Northwest to produce utility-scale generation.

Oregon

We are tracking two key issues and keeping our eyes out for other surprises during the Oregon legislature’s short session.

House Bill 4126 would settle Umatilla Electric Cooperative’s challenge to the state’s renewable energy standard. Umatilla is currently considered a “small” utility under the standard, but substantial load growth, primarily from new data centers, could make it a “large” one, subject to the full standard of eventually meeting 25% of its load with renewables. The compromise bill would allow small utilities transitioning into the large category to use unbundled renewable energy certificates to meet the standard. This agreement also would remove a pending ballot measure for 2014 that would authorize all historic hydropower to count toward the renewable energy standard.

HB 4126 also offers a process by which the Public Utility Commission could allow a utility to provide dedicated renewable resource contracts to individual industrial customers. Unfortunately, the bill moved forward without a provision on increasing industrial energy efficiency savings. This bill is a result of negotiations between members of a task force, including NW Energy Coalition, convened by Rep. Greg Smith and Gov. John Kitzhaber. The Coalition supports passage of the bill.

Meanwhile, low-income weatherization and bill assistance funding administration remains a concern. Discussions following the 2013 session produced a proposal to remove the funds from the state Department of Housing and Community Services and allow utilities to manage their own weatherization program funding (with local community action agencies continuing to provide the actual services). The PUC would provide oversight. This model is similar to the current arrangement for gas utilities in the state. Ratepayer-funded energy assistance dollars would be handled in the same way.

Community action agencies opted to hold off legislation until 2015 when the Oregon Housing and Community Services restructure is completed.

Washington

Clean energy advocates continue to defend Initiative 937 and to advance energy efficiency.  The Coalition and our allies have effectively stopped several bills that would weaken our Clean Energy Initiative by qualifying existing hydro and waste incineration as eligible renewable resources. We also worked with utilities and industrial customers on a compromise bill that may help accelerate energy efficiency efforts by utilities. House Bill 1643 has passed the House and is waiting final action in the Senate.

Other bills this session pertain to third-party financing for solar (HB 2176), clarifying the solar production incentive (HB 1301) and a feasibility study for nuclear power (Senate Bill 5991).  The two solar bills got tied up in knots and would not have advanced solar as we had hoped.

Finally, one efficiency standard bills is moving while another got stuck in the Senate.  HB 1017is a bill from 2013 that has been stripped down to include certain battery chargers and one light fixture. We expect it to pass. HB 2414 would have set water efficiency standards for bathroom plumbing fixtures.  It passed the House but went nowhere in the Senate.

Montana

Montana has no legislative session this year but join us for the Spring 2014 NW Clean & Affordable Energy Conference set for May 2 – 3 in Helena, Montana.

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For more information about our upcoming events, or to find more ways to become involved, contact Senior Development Associate Lilah Behrend at (206) 621-0094 or li***@nw******.org

And mark your calendars for a few opportunities to help your gift go farther:
— May 6 – GiveBig. On this day your donation will be matched by the Seattle Foundation.
—  June 2014 (date TBD) — 4 Under Forty. Join us for a fundraiser honoring four clean energy leaders under 40 years old. Click here to nominate a clean energy leader today!
— Nov. 7 – Portland gala. We will host a gala event in Portland focused on the future of clean and affordable energy for the Northwest.