House approves bill to spur innovations in energy conservation

Olympia – By a unanimous vote, the House approved Senate Bill 6414 Wednesday evening that would further advance the state’s energy conservation efforts under I-937. The bill’s supporters say this measure is needed to provide businesses and utilities some regulatory certainty before investing millions in innovative renewable energy projects.

“There’s a renewable energy project in my district that’s ready to go,” said Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-Burien) on the House floor. “This regulatory certainty will help get that project off the ground saving huge amounts of energy that’s currently being wasted.”

Enacted by the voters in 2006 through I-937, the Energy Independence Act requires certain utility companies to meet energy conservation targets using renewable resources.  Some conservation programs are spelled out very clearly in the law. Others are not so clear.

Where there is ambiguity, private utility companies may seek and receive an official, binding decision by the state Utilities and Transportation Commission before green-lighting a conservation project. Public utilities, however, go through the state Auditor’s office for binding decisions, but not until after the project is complete.

In a bit of irony, I-937 was written in hopes of spurring innovation in developing renewable energy sources. With an official audit occurring only after a project complete, some utilities are hesitant to invest millions into certain conservation efforts without assurances the projects will qualify under the provisions of I-937.

SB 6414 would allow public utility districts to seek binding decisions before beginning work on new energy conservation projects. A companion bill, House Bill 2688, was sponsored by Fitzgibbon, Representatives Dave Upthegrove (D-Des Moines), Eileen Cody (D-West Seattle).

Some utilities have projects on hold pending the outcome of this legislation. The Nucor Corporation and Seattle City Light want to convert waste heat that’s currently going up into the atmosphere and use it to generate new electricity through turbines.

Unofficial reports indicate the multi-million dollar project will qualify under I-937. But without certainty, both parties are hesitant to move forward.

“This is great news for our community,” said Cody. “Nucor is a good employer that provides living wage jobs. We want to see them continue to be successful.”

Nucor is a steel bar manufacturer based out of North Carolina. Their Seattle plant employs over 250 people in the Puget Sound area.

SB 6414 was amended in the House to shift the review authority from the Washington State University Extension Energy Program to the state Department of Commerce. Because the bill was amended, it now goes back to the Senate where they can accept the amendment or ask the House to remove it.