Initiative 937 Back in the Cross-Hairs Again – New Scrutiny of Renewable-Energy Rules Coming in House, Senate

(photo courtesy of Puget Sound Energy)

Looks like the Legislature’s favorite issue is back again for a new round of battle – the renewable-energy purchasing requirements passed in Initiative 937 that have bollixed utilities and have given environmental groups a new cause, and which threaten to force dramatic rate increases over the next seven years for anyone in Washington who pays an electric bill.

The Initiative was approved in 2006, when the economy was booming and electricity demand looked it would increase forever, the measure requires utilities to purchase an increasing share of their power from wind farms and other costly sources of alternative energy. Trouble is, demand flatlined in the recession, and utilities don’t need the power. They have to buy it anyway.

In the Senate, Energy Chair Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, says he wants to bring “sanity” to the issue. His caucus will continue to press for a shorter-term “don’t-buy-before need” fix – an idea that causes environmental groups and wind-farm developers to gulp.

On hearing on Monday night, held by Ericksen’s committee in the Tri-Cities put the spotlight on a new grass-roots ratepayer revolt that has been bubbling and fermenting in south-central Washington – framing the debate as greens versus the poor, and increasing pressure for a legislative fix. “Our families in the Hispanic community work hard to put food on the table and pay their electrical and other utility bills,” argued Martin Valadez, president of the Tri-Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, “while we support efforts to increase renewable energy, we do not want this to be done on the backs of hard-working families.”

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