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CETA: The View from Olympia

Fresh from a day participating in state government rule-making for the Clean Energy Transformation Act, Northwest Renewables managers are stretching cramped legs and sore bottoms while discussing what all this means.

After flying in on the 5:00 am shuttle, coffee in hand, we began with the Department of Commerce’s planning workshop through the morning, followed by the Utility and Transportation Commission’s afternoon planning hearing. Exciting stuff, no? Well…no. However, as is so often the case in government planning meetings, little actually happens but much is revealed about what will happen, and when. A few of our impressions:

  • Business and environmental leaders are engaged, with both meetings attended by scores of utility execs and lobbyists, green group leaders, social justice advocates, a few renewable energy companies, and even a few of those rarest creatures in state agency meetings — unaffiliated, concerned citizens. Still more attendees joined by Skype and by phone. The turnout was so unexpectedly large that Commerce had to open an overflow room on another floor, and even that room was packed. Clearly, we aren’t the only folks who think this is important.
  • This rule-making phase will take time — 3 1/2 years in the case of the Department of Commerce — although each December 31 locks in some rules, and after 2022 things will have to move fast in order to make the law’s key dates, especially the 2030 requirement for all utilities to be carbon neutral. Hence all the cooks now in the kitchen.
  • Fossil-fueled, investor-owned utilities are playing heavy defense, deploying squads of attorneys and lobbyists to argue that any change to the climate-killing status quo threatens grid reliability. Their basic message appears to be “all change is bad,” which may be a little troublesome in this age of climate crisis.
  • The Utility and Transportation Commission is already overworked and understaffed. Commissioners began their meeting by detailing the daunting workload already under way, even before beginning this transformation to clean energy; the Sierra’s Club’s Doug Howell opined that without more budget, the Commission will be unable to manage it.
  • Renewable Energy Credits came up repeatedly, as gas-fired utilities will need to buy credits to make up for any remaining gas generation by 2030. Making these RECs accessible to homeowners, small businesses and nonprofits would be a huge help.
  • Social justice is a concern voiced by many, as the costs of transitions like this shouldn’t be disproportionately born by the disadvantaged.
  • “Renewable natural gas” — methane captured by garbage and sewage digestion — was also much discussed by utilities that said they are working on it. However, nothing was said about the fact that this is still methane, 87 times more climate warming than CO2 is over a decade, and it still leaks disastrously as all other gas infrastructure does.

More to come, as other agencies such as Ecology, Health and the Auditor’s office hold public input meetings of their own. They were all here at these meetings to gauge public interest, which, if this July 30 attendance is any indication, means they should start reserving their largest auditoriums now.