Washington state lawmakers voted to bar utilities from shutting off people’s power and water when high temperatures are forecast.

House Bill 1329 passed the Senate last week and now awaits Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature, which may happen as soon as Thursday.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Sen. Joe Nguyen, D-White Center, pitched the bill last fall.

It prohibits both public- and investor-owned electric and water utilities, and landlords, from shutting off power or water to residents who haven’t paid their bill if the National Weather Service has issued or intends to issue a heat-related warning.

The bill also includes a reconnection provision, “so if someone has been unable to pay their utilities, and they become aware a heat wave is coming, they’ll be able to call and get reconnected,” said bill sponsor Rep. Sharlett Mena, D-Tacoma.

Utilities may require households to start a payment plan before reconnecting service. Under the legislation, the plan may not require monthly payments of more than 6% of the household’s monthly income, unless agreed to.


There is already legislation on the books protecting people from shut-offs in cold weather, but there are not yet protections in the heat.

More than 150 people died of heat-related illness during the 2021 “heat dome,” an unprecedented heat wave across the Pacific Northwest that lasted for about a week, according to the state Department of Health. Temperatures spiked to 120 degrees on June 29 in Hanford, the hottest temperature ever recorded in Washington.

“This is a lifesaving measure,” Mena said, referring to places where having access to power and water can be a matter of life and death. In King County, places with less green space, which is where people with more health issues and fewer opportunities to get health care often live, were as much as 20 degrees hotter than neighborhoods with more parks and tree canopy on a hot day.

While moves were made to protect some vulnerable populations, the state doesn’t yet have specific air-conditioning requirements for adult family homes. A bill that would’ve provided small grants for those homes to install air conditioning died in the Senate Ways and Means Committee. 

Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, said it wasn’t a priority for budget writers, but he plans to bring the bill back next year. 

Meanwhile, with just days left in the legislative session, efforts to help the state’s biggest natural-gas utility decarbonize appear to be fruitless.


A bill that may be revived next session would give Puget Sound Energy a big piece of all future clean energy projects.

In a nutshell, PSE has to get off natural gas because of a 2019 law requiring all utilities to start decommissioning fossil-fueled generators and build out clean energy. They have to first become carbon-neutral by 2030, meaning the utility is offsetting any existing emissions they may have, and rely on 100% renewable or non-emitting energy sources by 2045.

The bill would’ve guaranteed PSE an ownership stake in about half of all new clean energy projects in the state.

PSE serves some 1.2 million electric customers and 850,000 natural gas customers mostly in northwest Washington. In 2020, the utility relied on coal and natural gas for half of its electricity generation.

Nguyen, the chair of the Senate Environment, Energy and Technology Committee, said he’s worried Washington’s utilities can’t meet the 2030 target, and this was an effort by PSE to realize those goals and protect ratepayers. 

Shortly after PSE’s latest rate case settlement, the utility asked the Utilities and Transportation Commission for another $166.5 million in 2023 revenue from additional electric customers, a much higher rate than was initially agreed upon. Utility officials said it was largely needed to cover $135 million in additional power costs resulting from compliance with the 2021 Climate Commitment Act.


The Utilities and Transportation Commission rejected the request, which it calculated would cause the 2023 rate increase to jump to more than $14 per month for a typical electric customer.

Leaders from PSE will probably come back asking for help decarbonizing next year, Nguyen said.

While natural-gas utilities might not get assistance in their transition to clean energy anytime soon, two bills that would make it easier to build out clean energy infrastructure have passed both chambers.

Typically, permitting and building transmission infrastructure can take 10 to 15 years, said Anna Lising, senior climate adviser to Inslee. The bill provides a “more appropriate” timeline to meet the state’s clean energy goals outlined in law and expedites the environmental review and regulatory processes, Lising said.

Senate Bill 5165 changes transmission infrastructure (think high tension power lines carrying electricity long distances) planning from a 10- to 20-year forecast of power capacity and demand.

Priority corridors have already been identified for transmission projects by a state work group.


And House Bill 1216 aims to make the clean-energy siting process more efficient by ensuring there is coordination among state agencies, creating clearer guidelines around tribal consultation and tightening the timelines around the project review process.

It creates a council to oversee siting and permitting of clean energy projects, responsible for updating a list of contacts at federally recognized Indian tribes, laws on tribal consultation and tribal preferences regarding project siting and outreach.

Last year, the state produced an environmental impact statement that found a proposed clean-energy project on a sacred Yakama Nation site would have unavoidable impacts on tribal and cultural resources, as well as effects on golden eagles, little brown bats, smooth desert parsley and other rare plants.

This bill requires the state to engage with tribes earlier in the siting process, and offers opportunity to “fairly” compensate tribes for their input. It’s also supposed to help identify the effects of common types of clean-energy facilities on the land and natural resources.

“Those two are probably the most important climate bills that we have in Washington state,” Nguyen said. “They sound super-boring. But we won’t be able to meet our decarbonization goals without building energy infrastructure faster.”