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Senators offer carbon and energy alternatives

The Legislative Building of the Washington State Capitol, Olympia.

February 5, 2015 - 1:56 pm

By John Stang

Some state senators want to tweak Initiative 937 to encourage new efforts at reducing carbon emissions in Washington.

The proposed change to the 2006 voter-approved measure on the use of alternative energy sources by electric utilities is one part of GOP-originated proposals on energy and carbon-reduction unveiled at a Wednesday press conference in Olympia.

Gov. Jay Inslee — through a bill introduced by Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Des Moines — has a massive carbon-reduction bill in play in the Washington House. The Democratic measure would set a goal of reducing the state’s greenhouse emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, with further trimming of emissions later. Inslee and Fitzgibbon’s bill calls for roughly 130 of Washington’s biggest polluters to pay for permission to produce specific amounts of carbon emissions, which scientists have linked to global warming.

On Wednesday, Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale and chairman of the Senate Energy, Environment & Technology Committee, headlined the energy-related press conference, where he was joined by a handful of other senators to talk about their package of bills. Ericksen said the group of bills is not intended as a counter-proposal to Inslee and Fitzgibbon’s bill.

Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, wants to encourage the construction of small modular reactors in the state as carbon-free power sources. Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, has introduced a bill to encourage companies with huge fleets to buy vehicles that use alternative fuel sources.

In addition to his alternative-energy measure, Ericksen has a bill to require the state to seek bids on converting its ferries from diesel fuel to operating on liquefied natural gas. The ferry system has been studying such a conversion for at least two years, and is currently awaiting U.S. Coast Guard approval of the concept.

Ericksen’s alternative energy bill seeks to tweak I-937, which requires that 15 percent of state utilities’ electricity must come from alternative sources — wind, solar, biomass and others — by 2020. The interim targets have been an easily achieved 3 percent by Jan. 1, 2012, with still-to-be-reached goals that include a 9 percent share of alternatives by 2016.

Overall, 17 power utilities in Washington are covered by Initiative 937. Under the law, any utility with more than 25,000 customers must comply. The law’s purpose is to cut down on the emission of greenhouse gases by generating more electricity from renewable resources.

Ericksen’s bill would give those 17 utilities a choice between continuing to seeking alternative power sources or reducing carbon emissions by investing in electric vehicle charging stations, converting their own vehicles to using liquefied natural gas or tackling other carbon-reduction measures.

“In the Senate, we’re about carrots, not sticks,” Ericksen said about giving utilities new options on carbon reduction measures.

Inslee’s staff needs to study the proposals before commenting on them, said governor’s spokesman David Postman.

On the surface, at least, it appears that the Inslee-Fitzgibbon bill and the group of Senate bills could coexist, because they tackle different areas of energy-production and carbon-emissions matters. For instance, Ericksen said the GOP group of bills does not address Washington’s five oil refineries, which are targeted in the Inslee-Fitzgibbon bill.

Distributed by Crosscut Public Media

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