Taking the wrong route to the right destination can ruin a trip.
Which is why Washington voters should be wary of Initiative 937, a ballot measure that purports to steer the state toward a cleaner, cheaper power future based on wind. Ostensibly, the initiative is about all kinds of renewable energy, from biomass to ocean tides, but even advocates of I-937 concede it is primarily about wind.
It would require utilities with 25,000 or more customers to generate 15 percent of their power from renewable resources by 2020.
Low-cost, non-polluting hydro has been tapped out, and the initiative doesn’t consider it renewable anyway. Coal and gas, meanwhile, are costly and pose political and environmental problems. With or without Initiative 937, wind has an increasing role in meeting the electricity demands of a growing population.
That situation is not lost on the utilities in the Northwest. With no Initiative 937 to goad them, they are already developing and planning wind-generation facilities faster than expected by the Pacific Northwest Power and Conservation Council. The council projects 6,000 megawatts of wind-generated power in the next 20 years.
What, then, is the point of an initiative?
Good question, especially considering that initiatives are written in private and put on the ballot for an up or down vote. They receive none of the public scrutiny that occurs in the normal legislative process, so there’s no opportunity to identify and fix flaws before they become law. An initiative is a vital tool for the people when the Legislature and the private sector are unable or unwilling to act, but that’s not the case here.
It’s an especially risky approach with an issue as complex as making major changes in the power generation for a state of 6 million people.
Wind can’t be stored up, like water behind a dam, to be turned on as needed. It blows intermittently, and often is least available when most needed, such as during the hottest days of summer and coldest nights of winter. Therefore, even with wind power on hand, utilities have to have fully built up generating systems to meet peak loads.
Furthermore, generating power is one thing; delivering it to your home or business is something else. That takes transmission lines and a plan for integrating wind power into the existing grid.
The Northwest Power Council is in the midst of studying that challenge, and a report is expected in January. Of course, the initiative could be law by then.
For its intended goal of achieving cleaner energy generation, I-937 could actually discourage promising efforts to make coal, which is non-renewable but plentiful, a cleaner energy source. Gassifying coal under pressure, filtering out the carbons that contribute to global warming and pumping them benignly back into the ground would benefit the environment, but I-937 would discourage it.
Wind and other renewable power resources are being pursued without coercion. Initiative 937 would divert us down a bumpy road to the place we’re already headed. Voters should turn it down.
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