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House Reaches Compromise on I-937

By Josh Feit March 26, 2009

This morning, Rep. John McCoy's (D-38, Marysville, Everett) Technology, Energy, and Communications committee "exec-ed out" (meaning queued it up for a House vote)  the controversial Senate bill to undo I-937, the voter-approved renewable energy initiative.

However, the House bill—sponsored by McCoy and rewritten with language recommended (sternly) by Gov. Chris Gregoire—fends off the Senate's attack on I-937 with a compromise that the Environmental community is willing to support. For now.

Here's a compare and contrast. [Warning: This is the wonky boring stuff. See below for the sexy political stuff.]

The Wonky, Boring Stuff

The Senate bill allowed conservation measures to count toward I-937's mandate that 15 percent of their power comes from new renewable sources by 2020. The House bill does not allow conservation to count. (I-937 had a separate standard altogether for conservation.)

The Senate bill allowed a utility's load growth as a percentage of their production (how much new power they're producing) to replace the 15 percent standard. The result: Renewable energy sources could have dropped by as much as 50 percent, according to environmentalists. The House bill only allows the load growth standard to apply to smaller utilities. Environmentalists estimate this will cut new renewable sources by about 10 percent.

The Senate bill allowed some existing hydro plants to count toward the renewable sources goal. The House bill does not; however, it does allow hydro efficiency upgrades to count.

The new bill will also bump up the mandate to 16.25 percent by 2020, however it scaled back the 2025 20 percent mandate to a "goal" and allows a lot of bio-mass (wood product renewable sources) to count.

One thing that stayed intact from the Senate bill is this: Utilities can get their renewable energy from anywhere along the Western power grid from Canada to Mexico; I-937 mandated that the renewable sources were homegrown. To get Greens to sign off on this affront (the idea of I-937 was to build up Washington state's renewable energy sources portfolio  and create local green collar jobs), Gregoire has offered  a trade. She will extend a tax exemption on renewable energy that was set to expire this year.

Environmental lobbyists have tried unsuccessfully for the last two sessions now to get the legislature to extend the tax exemption—which applied to huge utility and small individual projects. 

Carrie Dolwick, a Green lobbyist for the Northwest Energy Coalition, told me that if this trade off falls through, they will no longer support the compromise. "The deal falls apart," she said. 

Sen. Chris Marr (D-6, Spokane), the sponsor of the Senate version, issued this statement this afternoon: “This represents a reasonable compromise supporting the environmental principles embodied in I-937 while adding safeguards for recession-weary ratepayers. We’ve said all along this is a work in progress and we’ve heard great feedback from environmental, utility and other interests in recent weeks who have helped improve it. These discussions will continue.”

The Sexy Political Stuff

If this compromise passes and the Senate signs off on it—which they will, given how much blowback they got from environmentalists—Senate Majority Leader Sen. Lisa Brown (D-3, Spokane) along with senate sponsor Sen. Marr, and a handful of liberal Seattle Senators who voted for it—will have shaken a political albatross, particularly Sen. Brown who is likely to face off against U.S. Rep Jay Inslee (D-WA, 1) in a Democratic scrum for the Democratic nomination for Governor in 2012. (Inslee was a loud advocate for I-937).

Brown has Gregoire to thank (Gregoire did the heavy lifting to defuse the issue and forge a compromise.) Gregoire's helpful role is ironic because Gregoire and Brown have been famously at odds all session over budget issues.

One person who isn't likely to get off the hook is Sen. Fred Jarrett (D-41, Mercer Island, Bellevue) who's running for King County Executive. I-937 passed by 60 percent in King County. Jarrett voted for the original Senate bill and his competitors for the KC Exec gig, Dow Constantine and Larry Phillips, will certainly make hay out of Jarrett's initial vote.

Indeed, Phillips—a stalwart environmentalist—called me yesterday to trash Jarrett for this.

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