Wash. lawmakers commit to 100% clean energy

Source: Benjamin Storrow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, April 15, 2019

Washington state lawmakers passed legislation to decarbonize the state’s power sector yesterday, reversing a series of painful defeats for climate hawks and handing Gov. Jay Inslee a signature policy win as he prepares to mount a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The House approved the measure 56-42, largely along party lines. And even though House and Senate negotiators must reconcile separate versions, Inslee is all but certain to get it soon.

The outcome is a victory for the governor and greens, who have seen a series of attempts to pass a carbon tax fail in recent years.

The governor is running a presidential campaign focused on climate change. Prior to yesterday, none of his major initiatives had passed (Climatewire, Jan. 18).

“This is almost this symbolic representation of the long legislative journey — a couple years of public outreach,” said state Sen. Reuven Carlyle, a Democrat who championed the bill in the Legislature. “We’re absolutely headed in the right direction.”

The bill would require Washington utilities to divest from coal by 2025 and become carbon neutral by 2030. Power companies would be allowed to offset emissions from natural gas until 2045, when non-carbon-emitting resources must make up all the state’s retail electricity sales.

The language would also establish a $60-per-megawatt-hour penalty for failing to meet the state’s carbon neutrality standard.

The vote means Washington is poised to become the second state to try to zero out carbon emissions from its power plants. New Mexico passed a similar bill last month, while Puerto Rico recently passed a 100% renewable mandate.

“Movements need trailblazers, and Washington has stepped up. The urgency to create a clean energy future has never been clearer, but it requires the leadership Washington has shown. The Evergreen State is living up to its nickname and creating a cleaner, safer future for Washington’s birds and people,” said David Yarnold, president and CEO of the National Audubon Society.

Republicans opposed the bill, saying it would increase costs to businesses and employers.

The state’s largest utility, Puget Sound Energy, could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Washington legislation is one of a several climate bills proposed by Inslee advancing through the Legislature, where Democrats control both houses.

It is not clear if the clean electricity bill will be enough to satisfy Washington’s long-term carbon reduction targets, however. State law requires a 25% reduction below 1990 levels by 2035, but transportation accounts for the majority of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions (Climatewire, March 18).