Our Voice: Even Boeing says hydropower is renewable energy

The language in a flawed energy initiative approved by voters in 2006 needs tweaking, but so far attempts to make the law more reasonable have been unsuccessful.

It’s worth noting, then, that a recent development might help make the case to state officials that hydropower should be considered a renewable resource.

Boeing, the state’s manufacturing giant, recently announced its plans to use all renewable energy sources at its factory where it assembles 737 commercial airplanes. Boeing officials say they will no longer use energy generated from coal or fossil fuels, and will instead buy more wind power credits and continue to use hydropower.

So, the aerospace giant that state government officials bend over backward to accommodate, publicly accepts hydropower as a renewable energy source. Wouldn’t it be great if the rest of the state followed suit?

Tri-City legislators have been trying to convince their colleagues of this for some time, but without much luck. Perhaps this next legislative session they could use Boeing’s example to help move along another attempt to change the law.

Problems arose when voters passed Initiative 937, which created the Energy Independence Act. It requires utility companies with at least 25,000 customers to purchase at least 3 percent of their power from eligible renewable resources. That percentage increased to 9 percent in 2016 and 15 percent in 2020. The trouble is, the initiative focused on wind and solar energy sources, but failed to recognize hydropower as a renewable energy source.

As long as the Columbia River keeps flowing, hydropower should be considered renewable.

The irony is that other states with similar renewable energy requirements end up buying their hydropower from Washington state, while our own utility companies must buy more costly power elsewhere. This hurts all Washington ratepayers, but especially the poor and those on fixed incomes.

Opponents say that without a mandate to find sources other than hydropower, our state will never diminish its reliance on fossil fuels and the dams on our rivers. They believe if utilities can count hydropower as a renewable resource, then they won’t go out of their way to find other alternatives like wind and solar energy.

There needs to be more flexibility on this issue. Just because Washington utilities were using a renewable energy source all along does not mean they are being lax if they continue to use it.

Last year State Sen. Sharon Brown and Rep. Larry Haler gave a great effort to fix this flawed legislation and we would encourage them to try again. It can’t hurt that Boeing, the top manufacturer in the state, also counts hydropower as clean and renewable. Perhaps using Boeing as an example will make a difference.