Washington legislature: I-937 survives challenges while new clean energy bills stall; operating budget provides oddly mixed message
Thanks to the steadfast efforts of activists such as you, our Clean Energy Initiative 937 has weathered another stormy legislative session. Despite numerous bills to weaken its energy efficiency and new renewables standards, I-937 emerged from the session not only relatively unscathed, but in some ways strengthened.
Legislators considered other clean energy bills, including several on water and battery charger efficiency and the future of solar power. While little of consequence moved forward in the short session, the stage is set for clean energy advances next year.
The Clean Energy Initiative
Washington’s legislature passed two bills affecting I-937:
- The first, House Bill 1643, grew out of negotiations between utilities, the NW Energy Coalition and the environmental community to help accelerate energy efficiency investments. It allows a utility whose energy efficiency gains exceed its two-year target to use the extra savings to meet up to 20% of each of the two subsequent biennial compliance goals. This “conservation rollover” bill provides utilities an incentive to invest in large efficiency projects, likely leading to additional efficiency achievements over time. This bill also ensures that utilities are using the most current methodologies and data when setting their savings targets.
- The second, HB 2733, allows new power generation from certain irrigation and water pipes and canals to count as an eligible renewable resource. While this new generation (an estimated 25 average megawatts, less than 2% of the renewable standard in 2020) does nothing to broaden our renewable resources beyond hydropower, it involves no new water diversions or impoundments.
Many far more harmful amendments to I-937 were turned away. These included allowing purchases of “transition power” from the Centralia coal plant to reduce a utility’s renewables obligation and counting existing municipal waste incinerators as new renewables. Also failing to advance were several bills to count federal hydropower dam upgrades that will happen anyway toward utilities’ renewables targets and a skewed study bill to consider the costs – but not the benefits – of I-937.
Efficiency, solar bills
Two energy efficiency bills – one setting new toilet, urinal and faucet water standards that would save 75 million gallons of water a day, the other adopting California efficiency standards for battery chargers and one kind of lamp fixture – passed the House but not the Senate. We will be looking for sponsors to reintroduce these bills next year.
On solar, two bills were introduced to modify the state’s incentive program, focused on leasing options and consumer protection. These bills grew overly complex and contradictory, and ultimately would have reduced rather than expanded solar installations in Washington. We intend to work with other stakeholders between sessions to sort out the various issues. Solar is too important to let languish.
Unfortunately a supplemental capital budget did not pass and with it died some good energy efficiency funding for weatherization and high-performance buildings.
A supplemental operating budget did pass and included two provisos relating to energy.
- The budget allocates $2.25 million for the state to purchase electricity for state facilities from solar energy projects, high-efficiency biomass fired cogeneration projects (likely to be from Nippon Paper) and coal transition power (from TransAlta’s Centralia coal plant). The appropriation of funds is for one year and to cover the incremental cost of making these purchases of in-state resources. It is possible that smart management of this could allow the state to make longer than one-year contracts.
- A legislative task force was established to study nuclear power generation – “the task force must consider the greatest amount of environmental benefit for each dollar spent based on the life-cycle cost of any nuclear power technology. Life-cycle costs must include the storage and disposal of any nuclear wastes.” The task force has no dedicated funding and must use House and Senate general operations funds. A study done in this manner is not likely to be very substantive on the environmental or economic aspects of new nuclear power generation for Washington.
Considering the challenges, Washington’s 2014 legislative session turned out fairly well for clean energy. But much remains to be done as we look to extending the promise of a clean and affordable energy future next session with a more proactive agenda.