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Washington getting closer to mandate for 100% clean energy

Ted S. Warren
The Associated Press
The sun shines outside the University of Washington's Clean Energy Institute in Seattle, Monday, Feb. 13, 2017, which houses the Washington Clean Energy Testbeds, a state-of-the-art lab intended to help speed development of clean energy innovations.

One of the biggest priorities among environmental groups working in Olympia this year is passage of a law to transition the electrical grid to 100 percent clean energy by 2045. It’s also a cornerstone of Gov. Jay Inslee’s latest policies to address climate change. The proposal faces a key vote in the state House finance committee on Friday morning.

Washington’s 100 percent clean energy bill was on a fast track when it was first introduced in January.

“Initially, it kind of was like shot out of a cannon, going super fast,” said Doug Howell with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. He says there’s a lot of complexity in the bill that has slowed it down.  

The main feature of it is a timeline that would phase out all coal from the state’s grid by 2025. It would set interim targets for 2030, and increase investments in renewable sources and energy efficiency to get to carbon-free electricity by 2045.

There was a move by utilities to ease the language in the bill, changing the schedule from a requirement into “intent.” But Howell says the stronger language is back in place in the latest version.

And, he says, the main arguments against the measure have tended to revolve around cost concerns, with people fearing utilities would pay for the transition at least in part by passing costs along to consumers. But Howell says those fears are becoming increasingly irrelevant.

“It’s probably more likely we’ll see costs savings, because clean energy is beating fossil fuel,” Howell said.

He says the costs for wind and solar power are now consistently lower than for gas. And just this week, Idaho's largest utility committed to weaning itself off fossil fuels by 2045.

“If Idaho Power said that they’re committed to getting 100 percent, that tells you something,” Howell said. “That is really quite phenomenal — that a very conservative utility is making that public declaration.”

He says that’s extremely strong evidence for the case that more and more states are making in favor of transitioning sooner rather than later to carbon-free sources of electricity.

Last week, New Mexico joined California and Hawaii in pledging to move to clean electricity by 2045. Washington is one of eight other states including New York, Florida and Minnesota that are considering similar legislation. 

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