Rep. Terry Nealey: We need a state energy policy that aligns supply with demand

We need a state energy policy that aligns supply with demand

By Rep. Terry Nealey

It is an honor to serve a legislative district that is within the energy hub of the Pacific Northwest. To the north of the 16th District, the Columbia Generating Station nuclear power plant at Hanford generates 1,150 megawatts of electricity. The Snake and Columbia rivers with their hydro power dams are directly in the district. One of the earliest and largest wind farms in Washington was built on Hopkins Ridge near my hometown of Dayton.

We’ve long enjoyed low power rates in our state because of the abundance of energy. But I’m concerned that could change because Washington has no clear long-term energy plan.

No one in state government is coordinating efforts for a unified strategy that matches electrical generation with the needs of our society. That lack of coordination is compounded by the mandates of Initiative 937, which is creating unintended consequences for ratepayers.

I-937 was approved by 52 percent of the voters in Washington in 2006. It requires electric utilities with more than 25,000 customers to have 15 percent of their power generated by renewable energy sources by the year 2020. One of the problems with the initiative is that it does not count hydropower as a renewable energy source. Hydro makes up more than 70 percent of generation in Washington state. To meet the mandate, some of our utility companies began building wind turbines in areas of the state that are known for high velocity wind.

When the initiative was approved, it was believed Washington would have an increase in population and demand. But that has not happened, primarily because the economy slowed down. So now, six years later, we have an overproduction of energy sources. When the rivers run high and the wind blows hard, the combination of hydro and wind generation produces more energy than can be used or sold. There’s no way to store this electricity. Spilling water over the dams is not generally a good thing because of environmental concerns.

The Bonneville Power Administration, which provides about 35 percent of the electricity for the region, has paid energy companies about $2 million to shut down their wind turbines during oversupply. I-937 provisions force utilities such as Benton PUD, which is plentiful with hydro power, to purchase higher-priced alternatives to meet the quota that cannot be used or sold. When utilities are forced to purchase higher-priced electricity, consumers end up paying more. When I-937 was proposed, opponents estimated it could increase electricity rates in Washington by $370 million a year.

As a member of the House Environment Committee which considers energy-related legislation, I believe we need to get stakeholders — utilities, elected officials, consumers, employers, environmentalists and others — to come together to create a long-term cohesive energy policy. We also should slow the process of expanding energy sources until the supply of electricity aligns with the demand.

Gov. Jay Inslee is a proponent of green power. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as we coordinate efforts and get on the same page with a long-term plan. It doesn’t make sense that in an energy abundant state here in Washington, ratepayers will be forced to pay more because we have too much electricity we can’t use or sell. Let’s make a plan that ensures supply and need are matched so that we can continue to enjoy low electricity prices in the Great Northwest.

Editor’s note: Rep. Terry Nealey, R-Dayton, represents the 16th Legislative District and serves on the House Environment Committee.

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