An Eastern Washington legislator wants to amend the state constitution to say that hydropower is a renewable energy source.
Rep. Larry Haler is hoping to lower energy prices in Washington by amending the state constitution.
Haler, R-Richland, has filed a piece of legislation called House Joint Resolution 4200 that would change the state constitution to recognize hydropower as a renewable energy resource.
It’s a response to voter-approved Initiative 937, passed in 2006 by just under 52 percent of the state’s voters.
The initiative requires utilities with at least 25,000 customers to buy at least 3 percent of their power from eligible renewable resources, such as wind and solar, and increase that to 9 percent in 2016 and 15 percent in 2020.
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And it doesn’t count hydropower toward the renewable requirement, Haler said.
“We’re denied as the people who have the dams the kind of financial savings we should see by having hydropower generated in our home state,” Haler said.
Republicans in the Legislature have been critical of the initiative, arguing that it forces utilities in Washington to buy power they don’t need from sources such as wind or solar, and to sell electricity generated by dams to other states such as California.
They argue that’s driving up the cost of electricity in Washington and making the state less attractive to businesses.
A local coalition called Citizens for Protecting Our Washington Energy Rates, or POWER, launched in September with the backing of state legislators, chambers of commerce, ports, business organizations, cities and public-utility districts, and with the intention of seeking legislation to amend the initiative.
Environmentalists, however, argue that the initiative is working well and doesn’t need to be amended.
“I don’t think that anyone disagrees that hydropower is a renewable resource. We have been blessed with hydropower in this state,” said Marc Krasnowsky, spokesman for the NW Energy Coalition, one of the initiative’s prime backers.
But the purpose of the initiative was to encourage development of other types of renewable energy, he said.
“Initiative 937 seeks to build on that hydropower tradition and ensure that tomorrow’s energy sources are cleaner than today,” he said. “To diversify our renewable energy sources — that’s definitely the point. It’s great to have two-thirds of our power coming from hydro, but where’s the rest going to come from? Where’s the new power going to come from?”
Krasnowsky said that upgrades to existing hydropower plants do count toward the renewable requirement and made up about 22 percent of renewable energy sources used to meet the requirement in 2012.
“Wind was the No. 1 way utilities met the renewable standard. No. 2 was hydropower, and that’s a good thing,” Krasnowsky said.
He said the initiative has prompted development of new energy sources, bringing jobs and money to the state’s economy.
“It has been a great boon and will continue to be as long as we push with this diversity,” Krasnowsky said.
But Haler hopes his proposed resolution will encourage more debate about renewable standards and whether the standards written into the initiative are in the best interests of the state.
“I hope it stirs up debate,” Haler said. “We’ve got to quit playing games with people’s money as far as (power) rates go.”
To amend the constitution, Haler’s resolution would have to go through a public hearing and votes in House and Senate committees, votes by the full House and Senate with two-thirds of the members voting in favor, and be signed by the governor. If all of that were to happen, the question would go to the voters in November, with when a simple majority necessary for passage, according to the state constitutional provisions on amendments.
The legislative session starts Jan. 14.