Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed sections of an energy bill that would have given Eastern Washington residents more input and a broader, long-term look at where wind and solar projects are sited.
Late Friday afternoon the governor signed House Bill 1812, which makes changes to the state council that evaluates and makes recommendations on allowing new energy projects in the state.
He had requested the legislation but was unhappy with sections that Reps. Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy, and Mark Klicker, R-Walla Walla, had succeeded in adding to the bill after negotiations with Democrats.
Among issues was no funding provided by the Legislature for work required by vetoed sections of the bill and redundancy with work already being done, Inslee said in a letter explaining his veto.
Dye said she and Klicker wanted to ensure ”that rural communities would have the opportunity to see what’s at stake for the total build-out on the rural aesthetic, not just the visual impact of individual solar and wind farms that are sited here and there,” Dye said.
The vetoed sections of the bill called for a study of the costs and benefits of energy projects expected to be sited in rural communities over the next 30 years and a legislative task force to consider the study.
The vetoed sections also would have called for the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Energy Supply and Energy Conservation to review economic development assistance and payments for impacted views that counties not home to their fair share of alternative energy resources would have to pay to counties that have more than their share based on their population.
““The governor’s strategy amounts to a hasty build-out of clean energy to serve the Puget Sound without any burden of siting massive wind farms in the Puget Sound viewshed,” Dye said.
“Instead, these facilities will all be sited in our rural counties that have no need for the energy and are already served by clean, affordable hydroelectricity,” she said.
The vetoed concept of a study was similar to a bill proposed by Klicker.
House Bill 1871 would have established a legislative task force to look at the state’s process for approving wind and solar projects, including investigating possible solutions to the mismatch in where electricity is produced versus where it is used.
In the meantime any Washington state decisions to allow new wind and solar projects would have been delayed until Dec. 1, 2023.
The delay would have come as Scout Clean Energy of Colorado is proposing a wind farm close to the Tri-Cities with wind turbines that would stretch along 24 miles of the Horse Heaven Hills from south of Finley to south of Benton City.
Eastern Washington impacts
When that bill failed to be voted out of the House Committee on Environment and Energy, Klicker and Dye successfully negotiated with Democrats to get language into the bill that makes the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council an independent agency separate from the Utilities and Transportation Commission.
The council will make a recommendation on whether to allow the Horse Heaven Wind Farm to Inslee, who will make a final determination.
The governor’s veto of sections of the bill that did pass will have devastating consequences to the future landscape of Eastern Washington communities and farmlands, Dye and Klicker said.
“It opens the flood gates for big out-of-state energy corporations to swoop into these small, rural, economically disadvantaged communities and offer leases at a fraction of the value of the agricultural land to struggling farmers and landowners,” Dye said.
The benefits of clean energy projects, such as jobs and tax-base impacts, “have been more salesmanship than substance,” Klicker said after the governor’s veto Friday.
“We asked for a study to show the true costs and benefits, and the governor’s vetoes show we were right to be skeptical,” he said.
Wind and solar projects provide well-paid construction jobs as they are being developed, but not many long-term jobs, according to comments at public meetings.
Gov. Jay Inslee responds
Inslee said during a bill-signing ceremony Friday that House Bill 1812 “makes our process for siting and permitting energy facilities more efficient, effective and transparent” to help build the clean energy future of Washington state.
In a Friday letter to the Washington House of Representatives, the governor said that the Legislature failed to provide funding for the requirement that the Washington state Department of Commerce conduct a study and talk with affected communities and groups.
But the Washington State University Energy Program already has launched a study and discussion process on how to site solar energy generation with the least conflicts, Inslee said.
There also is other work directed by the Legislature on how to effectively and responsibly site clean energy projects that includes discussions with those affected, he said. Those recommendations are due at the end of the year.
“There are significant economic development and job opportunities in clean energy in rural Washington and throughout the state,” Inslee said in the letter.
“On our shared path to clean energy and a safe climate, I am committed to learning from and having dialogue with rural communities across the state about clean energy, including project siting, and about how we can support vibrant rural communities as we transition to a clean energy economy,” he said.
But Dye said Inslee missed “a historic opportunity” to build consensus across the state on his clean energy strategy.
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