Inslee lays out first clean-energy ideas

By John Stang, originally published by Crosscut

Gov.Jay Inslee unveiled some alternative-energy boosting proposals Wednesday but left big potential pieces of environmental policy in the background.

Wednesday's proposals addressed electric vehicles and solar power while Inslee's big ticket items — tackling carbon emissions and low-carbon fuels — are still in the brainstorming stages. Inslee sees alternative energy thrusts not only as pollution controls, but also as engines for the state's economic development."Let me be clear about what drives me on this issue," Inslee told about 300 people gathered at a SeaTac hotel for the Future Energy Conference. "There’s a tendency for some people to minimize this as some radical notion. But this is not some hippie, patchouli oil smoking — or whatever — Woodstock moment. It’s about caring about the future, for sure, and the radical notion that we care about our children and grandchildren. But it’s also about smart business. It’s about strong economics."The proposals from Inslee are to:1. Encourage the use of electric-power vehicles, which number roughly 10,000 statewide already. This includes renewing a sales tax exemption on alternative-fuel vehicle, which expired next year. He wants to explore allowing electric vehicles to use HOV lanes on highways. He also wants to increase the number of charging stations in the state and to provide incentives for buildings to have high-speed charging facilities.


2. Streamline the local and state government approval processes for installing solar power systems on homes and commercial buildings, contending do so would save an applicant $500 to $2,500. It could also cut up to eight weeks off processing time.

3. Extend the state renewable energy cost recovery program, which provides money and help to alternative energy ventures. The current two-year, $40 million program expires next year. Inslee wants to extend the program with extra money. His staff is still working on a figure, but one internal proposal under consideration is for $60 million over two years.

Looming in the background is an Inslee push for low-carbon fuels, a concept that Republican legislators have opposed. Inslee cited carbon emissions reduction targets set in a 2008 state law. In 2008, Washington's Legislature set a goal of reducing the state's greenhouse emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, with further trimming of emissions to 25 percent below that 1990 level by 2035. By 2050, a 50 percent is required. He said he has the executive power to set low-carbon fuel stands as a way to enforce that 2008 law.

Inslee, however, said he has not decided whether to take that path if the Legislature does not tackle the standards to decrease the amount of carbon in fuels sold in Washington. "We don't have the answer to that yet, but we are exploring that,” he said.Also, Inslee has been studying whether to push either a carbon emissions tax or a cap-and-trade system through the Legislature. In a cap-and-trade program, Washington would have an overall annual limit to its carbon dioxide emissions. Firms would obtain rights for specific amounts of emissions in those areas and could trade their rights. A carbon tax is a levy on a firm's carbon dioxide emissions, which is supposed to inspire a business to decrease its emissions. Inslee does not want to push both simultaneously.An Inslee-appointed advisory task force is exploring those issues and will provide formal advice to the governor on Nov. 17. Inslee will digest that advice to prepare a legislative package for the 2015 session — something that Republicans appear likely oppose or at least be skeptical about.