OLYMPIA – Senate Democrats voted Thursday to fast-track industrial projects related to renewable energy, giving companies the option of bypassing local decision-makers and seeking approval directly from the Inslee administration.
Republicans opposed the measure, complaining that the state will make land-use decisions traditionally left to counties. Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said counties won’t be able to stop industries from crowding out farmland.
“We shouldn’t allow them to make choices for our agriculture,” he said. “At the end of the day … it really stinks to be a rural county.”
The Senate passed House Bill 1812 on a party-line 29-20 vote. The House approved the bill in mid-February with bipartisan support. The Senate made minor changes that need to be reconciled with the House.
Inslee requested the legislation. The bill will allow him to make the final decision on a wide range of industrial developments after they are reviewed by the Energy Facilities Site Evaluation Council.
EFSEC, controlled by Inslee appointees, already can recommend wind turbines and solar panels, even over the objection of local officials.
HB 1812 will let the council also review biofuel refineries, renewable hydrogen plants, electric vehicle makers, and other factories related to supplying the renewable-energy industry.
Senate Environment Committee Chairman Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, said the bill will streamline winning permission to build carbon-reducing projects.
EFSEC will be required to consult with local governments. Carlyle said the assumption that local leaders and residents will be steamrolled was “a bit unfair.”
The bill also will require the Department of Commerce to study how renewable-energy projects are impacting Eastern Washington, a provision that won the bill Republican support in the House.
Schoesler called the study “quaint.”
“We know what happens to studies,” he said.
Renewable energy advocates and environmental groups supported the bill. The most vocal opponent was the Washington State Association of Counties.
Senate Republicans said they weren’t out to block renewable energy, but they didn’t want to cede control to EFSEC. “These projects are good. We just want them done with the local folks in mind,” said Sen. Shelly Short, R-Addy.
Moses Lake Sen. Judy Warnick, the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, proposed four amendments to give local residents and county officials some influence over where factories are built.
Democrats rejected the amendments, saying they didn’t want to delay projects or make getting permits less certain.
One Warnick amendment would have limited factories to land zoned for industry.
Carlyle said the amendment would be too limiting and would be the “ultimate top-down, one-size-fits-all from Olympia, which I don’t think is constructive.”
Republicans said, repeatedly, that the whole thrust of the bill was top-down legislation, with Olympia at the top.
“In the search for green power, we’re willing to disenfranchise local government and local people,” said Sen. Ron Muzzall, R-Oak Harbor. “This is the very thing we fight against in this chamber all time, and that is inequity.”
EFSEC was created in 1970 to review nuclear power plants, and pipelines and transmission lines that cross county borders.
Most wind and solar projects in Eastern Washington have been approved by local governments, but some companies have gone to EFSEC after being rebuffed by local governments.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding