The Lewis County Public Utilities District is pondering a rate hike as high as 14.65 percent (coming in two phases) to offset the requirement to purchase expensive renewable energy and a looming 8 percent rate hike by the Bonneville Power Administration.
Back in 2006 the voters of Washington state, economically dizzy from the years of sustained robust economic growth, passed Initiative 937. I-937 requires electrical utilities to have 3 percent of its electrical load supplied by renewable energy by 2012, going up to 9 percent by 2016 and at 15 percent by 2020.
Renewable energy includes wind, solar and biomass, but not existing hydro power. I-937 also requires power utilities to fund energy conservation efforts. While Lewis County rejected I-937 by voting 62 percent against the initiative, it passed statewide by a 52 percent yes vote.
Clean, renewable energy certainly sounds positive. It’s also expensive and hits the pockets of everyone. Electrical rates might rise as high as 75 percent in the coming decade.
The issue is certain to be one the state Legislature tackles during next year’s session. The debate is already forming, in part due to the Great Recession and the need for economic growth that can come from reasonable power rates. The state and the Legislature is at a different place following four years of this battered economy that has unemployment high and too many people on the edge of financial ruin.
Next week the state House Environmental Committee will host a hearing asking for all the big players in the matter – business and environmentalists – to offer testimony.
The irony? Washington state already is at 70 percent renewable energy coming from hydroelectric power, including Mossyrock and Mayfield dams on the Cowlitz River. That didn’t matter to the consortium of greeners that pushed I-937 in the hopes that by forcing utilities to buy wind, solar and biomass power, it would create a green economic revolution.
So they nixed existing hydro. It was shortsighted then and is shortsighted now. It won’t, for example, lower carbon emissions as hydro power doesn’t create greenhouse gases.
So now Washingtonians will pay higher rates for electricity, and ship any excess hydro power to other states that allow for the purchase of hydro power to count as renewable energy.
Unfortunately, the battle is far removed from allowing hydro as a renewable energy source under I-937. Instead the discussion will hover on the margins.
Banning hydro power as a renewable source of energy, forcing a turn to wind power, is akin to asking a farmer to give his neighbor his tractor in exchange for a horse and plow.
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