Public weighs in on Brown’s bill to lower energy costs, create jobs

SB 6058 would allow hydro efficiency improvements to count as renewable under state’s Energy Independence Act

Sharon BrownWashingtonians pay millions of dollars each year for improvements that generate hydroelectricity more efficiently. According to those testifying before the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee today, those investments should be recognized as an eligible “renewable resource” under the state law created in 2006 by Initiative 937.

The public came to testify on a measure that would recognize those improvements, when made to federal projects. Senator Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, the sponsor of Senate Bill 6058, says her bill would help ratepayers deal with some of the unintended economic hardships caused by provisions of the I-937 law.

“This bill will help make up for some of the damage felt by families and employers struggling to survive in this economy,” Brown said. “By allowing some incremental electricity produced by efficiency improvements to hydro projects to qualify as an eligible renewable resource, we not only save consumers money, but we also help our employers free up the resources they need to hire more employees and give raises and better benefits to those already employed.”

Washington has always been in the forefront on clean energy with its abundance of hydropower – it accounts for 74 percent of the state’s electric generation. I- 937, which mandated that large utilities must obtain 15 percent of their electricity through renewable resources, recognizes power generated through solar and wind as renewable but excludes hydropower.

“Most people agree that it is a good idea to conserve energy by using more of our renewable resources,” Brown said. “But I-937 failed to consider hydro as the clean, abundant and affordable power source it truly is; Washington electricity users and providers have paid the price. Local utilities must sell their low-cost hydropower to other states that do recognize it as a renewable energy, while purchasing more costly power from out of state. This hurts all Washingtonians, but is particularly painful to minority communities and the poor, who tend to pay a greater percentage of their income towards energy costs.”

Efficiency changes made to hydro projects allow more electricity to be produced from the same amount of water without any new diversions or impoundments. Currently, the I-937 law only recognizes hydro-efficiency improvements associated with projects owned by a qualified utility. Under Brown’s bill, this recognition would be extended to incremental electricity marketed by the federal Bonneville Power Administration.

Steve Simmons, a restaurant owner and ratepayer from Kennewick, testified in favor of SB 6058, asking legislators to keep ratepayers like him in mind as they take up the bill.

“The cost of I-937 has become a reality for me and my business,” said Simmons. “It cost utilities more to buy renewable power, especially if that power is not needed; the added cost then gets passed on to utility consumers.

“The millions of Washingtonians who have paid for these efficiency improvements to hydro projects should be able to see the benefits of those improvements. We need to change our state’s renewable-energy mandate to protect businesses like mine… I urge [legislators] to consider people when you consider energy policy.”

Brown agreed.

“Our families need electricity, and they need jobs so they can afford it,” Brown said. “My bill would help provide both by allowing our utilities to pass any cost savings onto their customers. This not only provides a lifeline to families who must make the difficult choice between paying the light bill and putting food on the table; it may very well help to create the job or pay raise that family desperately needs.”

If recommended for passage by the Senate energy committee, the bill would either be sent to the Senate Ways and Means Committee or to the Rules Committee where it would await a vote of the full Senate.