Politics & Government

Carbon-free energy by 2045 is goal of legislation introduced in Washington Legislature

As the child of a climate scientist, Kristy Royce grew up making almost yearly trips to the Arctic with her family.

Decades later she returned to the Arctic as a tour guide, only to find that the sea ice and polar bears she remembered from her childhood trips were significantly less abundant than they once had been in the region.

“We always talk about these things like they’ll be happening in 50 years,” said Royce, who became a climate activist as a result of her last Arctic trip. “But climate change is happening now.”

It was that trip that brought Royce before the Senate Environment, Energy and Technology Committee Jan. 17 to testify in support of SB 5116, a bill that would support Washington state’s transition to carbon-neutral energy by 2030 and carbon-free energy by 2045.

A companion to the Senate bill, HB 1211, is in the House and was heard Tuesday by the Environment and Energy Committee. Hundreds showed their support for both bills by making appearances at the hearings.

“We can have healthy, more vibrant communities and a liveable future for our kids growing up today, but to get there we must transform the ways we produce and consume energy,” said Bruce Speight, state director at Environment Washington. “That has to start with a 100 percent renewable energy commitment and passage of HB 1211.”

SB 5116 and HB 1211 establish three new standards for electric utilities in the state: a coal elimination standard, a greenhouse gas neutral standard and a clean energy standard.

The bills would require the Utilities and Transportation Commission to accelerate the depreciation schedule for any coal-fired resources by Dec. 31, 2025. All electric utilities must eliminate all costs associated with delivering electricity to Washington customers that are generated from a coal-fired resource by this date as well.

Both bills would require all retail sales of electricity to Washington customers to be greenhouse gas neutral by Jan.1, 2030.

By Jan. 1, 2045 electric utilities must supply 100 percent of electric retail sales using renewable sources. Electric utilities not in compliance with any of the terms of the bills would face hefty administrative penalties.

There are a few current state laws affecting the procurement of renewable resources and the emission of greenhouse gases in the electric utilities sector including Initiative 937, which was passed in 2006.

Initiative 937 only required utilities companies to receive 15 percent of their electricity from renewable resources. SB 5116 and HB 1211, on the other hand, would tackle climate change more aggressively and attempt to do it faster.

“The goal of this policy is to send a signal to the market that we want to be clean in 25 years without compromising reliability,” said Lauren McCloy, senior policy advisor on energy to Gov. Jay Inslee.

During both public hearings, most people signed in to support SB 5116 and HB 1211. Those who signed in as other were given the opportunity to express their concerns.

Issac Kastama, who spoke on behalf of the Low Carbon Prosperity Institute and both Benton and Franklin Public Utilities, said they believe it is an admirable goal to aim for 100 percent renewable energy, but concerns still abound. Maintaining cost advantage and protection for low-income residents were some of Kastama’s priorities and were echoed throughout the hearing by others.

Grid reliability, equitable affordability and cost caps were the most frequently cited concerns and will continue to be addressed by committee members as the bills move through the legislature.

“It’s asking a lot of us,” said Rep. Gael Tarleton, D-Seattle. “But just remember, if we don’t ask a lot of ourselves now, we will never be where we need to be 25 years from now.”