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Plan for compromise on green energy takes hits from all sides, might ‘implode’ again

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on Jan. 23, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
January 23, 2012 4:44 pm

This month, utilities are having to meet mandates voters imposed in 2006 to either produce green energy or buy credits from those who do.

The Initiative 937 regulations have drawn complaints for years, especially as the economic downturn has depressed demand for electricity and power companies have found themselves having to buy power they don’t need.

Now the chairmen of the House and Senate committees that deal with energy, Rep. Dave Upthegrove and Sen. Kevin Ranker, have crafted what they hope will be a step toward compromise.

But at the bill‘s first hearing today, the measure took criticism from all sides. The question of what to change divides the energy industry. And environmentalists oppose changes they see as damaging to the state’s burgeoning green-power industry, which they say has invested $7.5 billion in Washington.

Many interested parties would rather see nothing happen than give up too much, as Ranker, D-Orcas Island, underlined today:

“The most common thing I heard was if there are no changes it’s not the end of the world,” he said, and added: “If we can’t compromise, this will implode as it has in the past.”

Opposition from Tacoma lawmakers helped kill a 2009 measure that would have made changes to I-937.

But Upthegrove told me, “I think people are calmed down a little bit more this year,” and all sides seem to agree. A Tacoma Public Utilities representative said everyone’s “trying to avoid a repeat” of 2009, while an environmental lobbyist said “the dialogue has come a long way from 2009, when it was very contentious.”

Here’s some of what the bill does.

  • Washington is unusual in its enormous use of water for power, and lawmakers propose allowing greater recognition of hydroelectricity as a renewable resource that counts toward the mandate. Only hydropower added after 1999 would count.
  • It also would count more electricity created from biomass, including the byproducts of paper production. Pre-1999 biomass plants would even be grandfathered in, but would have to pay a new fee. The fee proceeds would pay for grants that reduce car pollution, such as for electric-car charging stations and greener government fleets.
  • Utilities that can show they don’t need more power would find it easier to get exemptions to the mandates.
  • Mandates would be delayed by a year. Utilities were supposed to produce 3 percent of their energy from renewables by Jan. 1, followed by 9 percent in 2016 and 15 percent in 2020.
  • To balance those kind of industry-backed changes, a new, higher 20 percent mandate supported by environmentalists would be added that would require utilities that are growing to meet all of their new power needs with renewable energy.
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