By David Chircop
Hydropower is at the center of a running debate on the future of Washington’s green energy initiative.
When voters approved Initiative 937 in 2006, the law required large utilities, including Snohomish County PUD, to get 15 percent of their energy supply from renewable resources by 2015.
Hydropower, which accounts for most of the electricity consumed and generated in the state, didn’t count toward the renewable energy targets, although it is considered a renewable resource that produces few greenhouse gases.
Critics argue that excluding hydropower from green energy requirements burdens ratepayers by forcing utilities to pass up cheap and clean hydropower and to buy more expensive forms of alternative energy, such as wind and solar power.
At the same time, utilities such as the PUD sell green energy credits for hydropower to states like California, whose renewable portfolio standards do count hydropower as alternative energy.
Proponents of leaving traditional hydropower out of Washington’s green energy standards say there’s good reason for the omission.
Backers of I-937 wanted to encourage the development of new renewable energy technologies rather than sticking with the status quo, said Marc Krasnowsky, a spokesman with the NW Energy Coalition, a prime sponsor of the initiative.
State lawmakers this year grappled over proposals to ease some of the initiative’s requirements. Proposals to change the initiative ultimately failed and the original initiative was left intact.
A proposal out of the state Senate would have allowed small hydro projects under 5 megawatts to count toward the goals. New hydropower projects, such as the ones being proposed by Snohomish County PUD, would not have counted.
Rep. John McCoy, D-Tulalip sponsored his own bill, which would have required utilities to get 20 percent of their power from renewable sources. The bill would have given utilities until 2020 to accomplish the goal. McCoy’s bill also would have allowed efficiency improvements to existing hydropower plants to count toward the goals.
McCoy, the chairman of the House Technology, Energy and Communications Committee, wouldn’t let the bill leave committee when other lawmakers tacked amendments to his bill that would have counted small existing hydropower projects under I-937 requirements.
“Hydro is green, we all acknowledge hydro is green,” he said. “But hydro is an old technology. If everybody sits back and relies on hydro, we’ll never get to alternative energy.”