February 4, 2012

Washington: Clallam Public Utility District gives nod on renewable-energy bills

The Clallam County Public Utility District has echoed an earlier signal that power providers shouldn’t have to buy expensive renewable energy their customers don’t need.

Commissioners this week adopted a resolution supporting state House Bill 2682 and Senate Bill 6418, which allow utilities to delay purchasing renewable energy before they need more supply.

The companion bills have the same summary language as House Bill 2124 and Senate Bill 5964, which the PUD endorsed in a resolution last August.

The PUD has an interest in the legislation because of requirements in the Washington Energy Independence Act, which 52 percent of voters approved in 2006 as Initiative 937.

The state law requires utilities such as the Clallam County PUD with more than 25,000 customers to get incrementally more of their electricity from renewable sources. This year’s 3 percent target increases to 9 percent in 2016 and to 15 percent by 2020.

Hydropower, which supplies the PUD and most of the Pacific Northwest, is not considered renewable under I-937.

“After spending much of December talking to our customers about rate pressures, the common question from customers was ‘what are we doing to change the mandates,’” said Doug Nass, PUD general manager.

“The No. 1 thing we want to change in the current law is the requirement that we buy before need — that is, we should not be mandated to replace low-cost, clean hydropower with more expensive renewable energy, which would then result in unnecessary higher rates for our customers.”

The PUD gets its electricity from the Bonneville Power Administration and its hydroelectric dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

“Clallam PUD is also experiencing minimal load growth, and our projections suggest no real change in this,” Nass said.

“So, under the current law, if we experience minimal load growth, as we are in this economy, we are then required to replace that very affordable clean power with power that is three to four times more costly — even if we don’t need the power.”

In adopting the resolution, the commissioners emphasized the need for local control, PUD spokesman Michael Howe said.

The resolution states that the “Energy Independence Act interferes with the ability of local, elected utility commissioners to govern the utility in the best interests of its customers.”

House Bill 2682 was introduced by Rep. Terry Nealey, R-Dayton. It was referred to the House Environment Committee on Jan. 24.

Senate Bill 6418, introduced by Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond, was referred to the Senate Energy, Natural Resources and Marine Waters Committee on Jan. 23.

“The legislation supported by this resolution does not change the intent of the original initiative,” Nass said. “It simply allows for greater local control and adapts to the current economic climate where load growth is very slow and our customers struggle to make ends meet.

“It really doesn’t make much sense to purchase power that is three to four times more expensive than the clean, renewable hydropower we have now if we don’t need it.”


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