Guest Opinions

Guest Opinion: Energy mandate backers said prices would go down. They went up

Nancy Hirsh, executive director of the NW Energy Coalition, had an op-ed calling Todd Myers out for a faulty prediction he made in 2006 about I-937, Washington’s renewable energy mandate. Myers says his prediction was closest to the truth.
Nancy Hirsh, executive director of the NW Energy Coalition, had an op-ed calling Todd Myers out for a faulty prediction he made in 2006 about I-937, Washington’s renewable energy mandate. Myers says his prediction was closest to the truth. AP

Sometimes in public policy debates, it’s the little differences that stand out.

For example, Nancy Hirsh, executive director of the NW Energy Coalition, had a piece in the Tri-City Herald and the Spokesman-Review recently where she reiterates claims made in their flawed study on the Snake River dams from last month.

As part of her response to my critique, where I noted the cost of replacing the dams would be higher than they claimed, she also tried to undermine my credibility. In her piece, she noted that in 2006 I said that Initiative 937, which forces Washington residents to buy expensive renewable electricity, would “cause our utility bills to double.”

She goes on to claim, “Instead, in the years after we passed I-937, utility rates grew at less than the rate of inflation.” Why trust Todd, she implies, when my history of prediction is so poor?

There’s a problem. Her quote is close, but there is a little difference with what I actually said. The full quote is, “energy costs will double by 2020,” emphasis added. Her omission isn’t an accident. Indeed, my full quote is on her own NW Energy Coalition web page.

I’m not the only one who made a prediction about I-937’s impact on energy prices. Groups pushing 937, like the NW Energy Coalition, claimed I-937 would, “save us energy and money,” even claiming, “consumers would see annual savings on electric bills under I-937 beginning in 2014.”

Even though we aren’t yet to 2020, we can determine who has been more accurate. It isn’t even close.

Since 2007, Seattle’s residential electricity rates have, in fact, doubled, two years before my 2020 deadline.

In Spokane, Avista has done better at keeping residential rates down, where costs have increased by about 65 percent since 2006. Avista’s rates may not quite double by 2020, but my projection is far more accurate than the wildly inaccurate claim that costs would decline.

As to Hirsh’s claim that utility rates grew at less than the rate of inflation ...

From 2006-16, the most recent year with statewide price data, inflation during that time was 19 percent, while Washington’s residential electricity rates grew at 39 percent, according to the Energy Information Administration.

The NW Energy Coalition objects to my analysis and that I focus on residential rates. They point to the average for all electricity rates (residential, commercial and industrial), noting it grew at about the rate of inflation.

There is a statistical trick here, however. Their analysis relies on the fact that rates for industrial users, about 17 percent of total demand, have stayed remarkably flat. For residential and commercial users, representing about 83 percent of demand, rates have gone up faster than inflation. Put simply, residential and commercial electricity users are footing the bill.

Any analysis or prediction (including mine) that covers the period of 2008-11 is going to be affected by the Great Recession. It is a warning to be humble about predictions that I try to remember. So, they are right to say that my prediction, even with another two years, is unlikely to be true.

But, their claim that residential users who are paying significantly higher rates should be happy for the 17 percent of industry that isn’t, is tone deaf at best, especially since they promised residential users lower rates.

Playing games with the little, but important, details is what got the NW Energy Coalition in trouble with its initial study on the Snake River dams. In her attempt to defend that flawed study, Ms. Hirsh plays new games, hoping that residential users, who are paying the price of her polices, fall for their flawed predictions once again.

Todd Myers is the Environmental Director at Washington Policy Center.

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