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Lawmakers Mull Green Power Mandates

by Chris Mulick, Herald staff writer
Tri-City Herald, February 18, 2003

OLYMPIA -- Environmentalists have dusted off plans for requiring utilities to include green power in their energy portfolios and are pressing the Legislature to enact them.

The House Technology, Telecommunications and Energy Committee is scheduled to take up the issue this morning. House Bill 1544 would require utilities to get 5 percent of their energy from environmentally-friendly power plants by 2010 and 15 percent by 2023.

"It's very reasonable," said Danielle Dixon, a lobbyist for the Northwest Energy Coalition, a collection of environmental advocacy groups.

"It's very gradual in approach," she said.

Qualifying power resources would include wind, solar, biomass, landfill gas and any energy acquired from new efficiencies at existing hydroelectric dams.

Collectively, the bill would require Washington utilities to triple their share of green power over 2001 levels.

That year they got about 1.65 percent of their energy from environmentally-friendly power plants. Green power made up no more than 0.7 percent of the energy purchased by Tri-City-area utilities.

The bill also stipulates utilities must meet certain conservation standards. But supporters won't sell the plan based entirely on its environmental merits, said Heather Rhoads-Weaver, director of Northwest Seed, an organization that last year completed an effort to map out the region's best wind sites.

"That is not going to be the entire selling point," Weaver said.

"If it can also help the economy, that makes a compelling argument," she said.

Backers will be leaning heavily on arguments the bill will boost rural economies.

Wind farms, for example, can provide handsome royalties for landowners, and biomass facilities that generate power from agricultural wastes can give farmers another product to sell.

Endorsements have come in from groups such as the Washington Association of Wheat Growers and the American Farmland Trust. Other economic development groups and companies developing the renewable technologies also are weighing in on the issue.

"It's been a more comprehensive lobbying effort," said committee Chairman Jeff Morris, D-Anacortes.

Such utility requirements have been aggressively sought by green power advocates across the country as a way to boost the developing technologies. Thirteen states have adopted similar measures and 21, including Oregon, have approved different plans requiring utilities to invest a percentage of their revenues in renewable energy or efficiency measures.

But some utilities, fearing higher costs for ratepayers, don't care for the kind of mandates the bill would implement. And that figures to create a significant obstacle, particularly in the Republican-controlled Senate.

"We recognize a balance makes sense, kind of like spreading your investments makes sense," said Chuck Dawsey, manager of the Benton REA. "(But) the minute you get to a mandate you lose the ability to make decisions in the best interests of your ratepayers."

"I don't think it's fair to the consumer in the end," said Rep. Jerome Delvin, a Richland Republican and a member of the committee. "I'd rather have the free market. If it was that great, then let it compete."

Related Pages:
Washington State Legislature Summary of House Bill 1544

Chris Mulick, Herald staff writer
Lawmakers Mull Green Power Mandates
Tri-City Herald, February 18, 2003

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