Our Voice: Gov. Inslee disappoints with his veto of I-937 effectiveness study

July 10, 2013 

We are scratching our heads at why Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed the environmental effectiveness study the House and the Senate approved.

In fair disclaimer, we've never supported Initiative 937 -- the measure that forces utilities to increase their use of renewable energy -- and believe the study would prove it's expensive and ineffective.

Like so many initiatives, the title sounds good, but the devil is in the details.

The law passed in 2006 with 52 percent voter approval, and it now is forcing Washington utilities to buy electricity they don't want or need.

Under the initiative, utilities with 25,000 or more customers must gradually increase their renewable portfolio to 20 percent of their total supply by 2020.

Hydro power cannot be counted as renewable energy under the measure. Otherwise, utilities would already meet the initiative's renewable goals. The wind farms blighting much of Eastern Washington are only viable because I-937 pretends hydro isn't renewable.

Utility companies around the state agree with us on that point, although most of them have moved on. Rather than fight the "hydro" battle, they have tried to push back the deadlines that require the purchase of alternative energy. Basically, they don't want to be forced to buy "green" power until they need it.

Protecting Our Washington Energy Rates, or POWER -- spearheaded by the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce and other Mid-Columbia interests -- approached the Legislature this year with a proposal that would allow utilities to count energy conserved in excess of conservation targets toward the renewables target.

The bottom line to their message was that I-937 hurts their ratepayers by prohibiting utilities from pursuing cheaper ways to accomplish the same goals.

That's wasteful and stupid. I-937 was flawed from the outset. We suspect that Inslee vetoed the effectiveness studies because environmentalists in his base know it would have proved what Washington Policy Center asserts -- that $95 out of every $100 spent on climate strategies is wasted.

If that's true, why would state taxpayers continue to toss money into this pit?

So back to the veto.

Inslee cited two reasons for his refusal to sign this item: He said I-937 has cost containment controls and that an analysis will be completed as part of this year's climate study.

Both points are true, but not necessarily valid.

We don't advocate duplicate and unnecessary studies, but this is different.

The cost containment controls built into I-937 don't provide for public oversight since ratemaking is a private exercise. The utility or commission that approves the rate would have access to the cost containment information, but they don't have to share that with the public.

Secondly, the analysis Inslee speaks of most likely will show that the new renewables are more expensive than "non-renewables" like hydro or nuclear but not necessarily weigh costs against the limited benefits.

It's a little late now that the study has been vetoed, but we still would like to see a thorough analysis of the effectiveness of I-937. If the initiative is performing the way it was intended to, let's give it a chance to prove itself. If not, the public deserves to know that too.

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