Report: House committee holds work session on potential changes to Initiative 937

Washington state’s House Environment Committee held an interim work session on I-937 on Tuesday, July 26. Chair Dave Upthegrove (D-Des Moines), Ranking Minority Member Shelly Short (R-Addy) and fellow Reps. Larry Crouse (R-Spokane), Steve Tharinger (D-Sequim) and Joe Fitzgibbon (D-Burien) attended.

Howard Schwartz of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council gave the committee a brief overview in which he listed several “issues and perceptions” regarding the act. He noted such issues as whether to include hydropower (particularly during oversupply events) and counting efficiency beyond a particular utility’s target toward its renewable energy requirement. He also mentioned the need for some purely “technical fixes.”

A quintet of stakeholders then provided five minutes each of testimony.

Renewable Northwest Project deputy director John Audley stressed the importance of continuing renewable energy investors’ interest in the state and of better managing our transmission system.

Washington Public Utility Districts Asso. executive director George Caan expressed strong support for energy efficiency, but argued that utilities with low or no load growth should not have to purchase energy they do not need.

PacifiCorp’s Kathleen Collins, who said she was speaking on behalf of all three of the state’s investor-owned utilities, advocated a flexible, cost-effective and manageable policy for utilities. She highlighted utility challenges in adapting to changing regional energy markets and the supposedly rising costs of integrating more renewables into the grid.

Association of Washington Business government affairs director Chris McCabe claimed ratepayers have been left out of the conversation. He complained that some renewable energy sources are not listed as eligible resources and that the “unrealistic” 15% by 2020 target will lead to higher power costs. He advocated expanding the market area to the Western Energy Coordinating Council area (basically all of the West) and opposed policies aimed at increasing our current clean energy standards.

NW Energy Coalition executive director Sara Patton outlined how I-937 has driven energy efficiency achievements and associated savings for ratepayers. She noted the act’s success in creating energy-sector jobs and said the Coalition stands willing to identify appropriate changes — both technical and substantive – as part of a comprehensive review.

Finally, Gov. Chris Gregoire’s executive policy advisor Keith Philips relayed the governor’s priorities regarding I-937. They include:

  • Expanding the market to all Western states.
  • Counting hydropower toward the renewable standard during periods of overgeneration and finding a way to reimburse wind generator for lost federal credits.
  • Officially recognizing hydropower as a renewable resource without undermining I-937’s new renewables standard.
  • Letting conservation count for a portion of the renewable energy targets.
  • Establishing higher standards for the post-2020 period.

Phillips said the governor is seeking feedback on these ideas.

Committee members weigh in

Upthegrove then led a short discussion on how the committee should proceed. He presented a draft legislative review of the Energy Independence Act and highlighted the following issues:

  • Definition of eligible resources
  • Pre-approval of eligible resources
  • No and low load-growth utilities
  • Recognizing energy efficiency investments beyond cost-effective measures
  • Geographic scope

Short asked about cost drivers for PUDs and why energy efficiency was not considered a renewable resource. She expressed concerns about Bonneville Power Administration’s upcoming rate increases due to aging infrastructure and load growth. She said she wants to ensure cost effectiveness and to maintain state competitiveness as we approach the 2016 targets, which she described as bigger and under a shorter time period. She also suggested bringing the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission into the conversation to learn more about the agency’s cost-effectiveness and prudency determinations.

Tharinger cautioned against distilling issues down too quickly and advocated maintaining an holistic approach in light of past negotiations. He observed that each action or tweak tends to affect other stakeholders’ interests.

Fitzgibbon said revising I-937 gives us a chance to aim high and enhance our energy mix. Rather than moving backward, he would like to improve the state’s portfolio.

Upthegrove asked about conservation measures in excess of what is deemed cost effective, and whether such investments could count toward renewable energy targets. He expressed concern about ratepayer impacts, since 31% of Puget Sound Energy customers in his district live at or below the poverty level. He reaffirmed his support for aggressive renewable energy requirements and stressed the need to be fair to utilities already doing the work while moving forward with potential revisions.

He said all parties should expect to compromise.

Comments/document links
Upthegrove asked for written comments, especially from those who couldn’t speak at the work session. Committee members are particularly interested in feedback on the scope of issues to help them identify concerns and opportunities over the next three weeks. People should comment electronically and cc Courtney Barnes (

Here’s a selection of available documents from the work session:

  • Handouts from Renewable Northwest Project, the NW Energy Coalition and the Association of Washington Business