State renewable energy act past due for major overhaul

Washington's renewable energy act of 2006 has been hemorrhaging from a lack of logic since its inception, and we encourage the Legislature to staunch the flow and protect the PUDs on this side of the state.

The solution is going to require more than a Band-Aid -- but not much.

To be clear, we support the idea behind the Washington State Energy Independence Act. After all, who doesn't want clean, sustainable energy now and in the future?

We would love to be energy independent, and we recognize that there may be some pain to get from where we are to where we want to be.

But we have to say, again, that this act is not the way to achieve that goal.

In 2006, when Initiative 937 was presented to the voters, we recommended against it, based largely on the bill's definition of renewable.

We wrote, "But no matter how laudable the goal, legislation by initiative is rarely the way to get things done. In the absence of legislative give and take, it's far too easy to end up with unintended and unpleasant consequences."

Events have proved us right.

The initiative was supposed to encourage conservation and require more green energy for the future, such as solar, wind, tidal and biomass projects. (Nuclear is conveniently left off the list.)

It requires utilities of a certain size to incorporate alternate energy into their portfolio, as much as 15 percent by the year 2020.

The sticking point for us and most of the opposition on this side of the state -- where the initiative trailed by big margins -- is what is considered alternate energy.

It is unbelievable that hydropower -- water flowing into one side of a generator and passing cleanly out the other side -- is not considered renewable.

Of course, the goal of the law is to encourage new sources of clean energy. And we know that building more dams won't be on the drawing board, (although we could see a nuclear plant or two on the horizon).

However, it makes no sense to force PUDs like Benton to buy energy from an overpriced wind farm when it already has plenty of hydropower under contract. Clean, beautiful, dependable hydropower, we might add.

So even if we don't build any new dams, it would be foolish for electric utilities to replace power they already have with alternative forms of energy that are more expensive but aren't any greener.

Utilities on this side of the state have been making their case since the law (narrowly) passed in 2006. But they have been unable to get the Legislature to define hydropower as renewable.

This law doesn't make sense for the Northwest, and it is particularly inane in the Mid-Columbia, where it threatens to cause serious damage to one of our main economic drivers -- our abundant supply of low-cost energy.

If the supply of energy ever runs short in Washington, it might make sense to encourage clean, renewable sources over a coal-fired plant, for instance.

But for here and now, the Washington State Energy Independence Act is overreaching and underproducing.

Bills introduced in the Legislature would exempt utilities that already have ample energy supplies under contract from the initiative's mandate to buy additional "green" power.

When lawmakers convene in January, that compromise between the initiative and common sense may be the best we can hope for.

But for the Legislature to truly correct flaws in what might otherwise be a useful law, it needs to recognize the obvious and include hydropower as a renewable energy source.