By Veronica Sandate Craker
Six years after Washington voters passed Initiative 937 a group of Mid-Columbia residents launched Citizens for Protecting Our Washington Energy Rates, or POWER, a coalitions of local business owners, politicians and organizations spearheaded by the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce to make changes to the energy plan.
“Being mandated to purchase energy renewables not only drives up cost, but actually disincentives conservation efforts,” said Steve Simmons, coalition chairman. “So our intent is to get legislation passed that relieves the utilities of the need to buy power before they actually need to.”
The Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce organized the coalition last year after noticing rising energy rates. Initiative 937 requires Washington utilities with 25,000 or more customers to obtain 15 percent of their electricity from renewable resources by the year 2020. Renewable resources include wind, solar, biomass and landfill gas.
Some hydropower dams with utility upgrades are also included and are projected to provide nearly a quarter of the statewide requirement.
“I don’t think anybody really understood what the impacts were going to be on the individuals until it actually started to happen,” Simmons said. “And even today if you asked me what my rates were going to be in 2020 when we go to 15 percent, the utilities will not be able to calculate that.”
AgriNorthwest Chief Financial Officer Tom Mackay said energy rates to the company’s farms in Benton and Walla Walla counties have gone up substantially at 25 to 30 percent.
“Now most of that, or a large part of that, is due to the moving from hydropower to other types of power,” Mackay said. “We believe in conservation, we take every opportunity and every program that’s offered to us because we want to be efficient. What happens when my utility rates go up? I’m challenged to find a way to offset them.”
For Mackay that means either cutting jobs or raising food prices.
“When my costs go up eventually my food costs will go up,” Mackay said. “As a farmer I can feed the world. The challenge is can they afford it?”
Nancy Hirsh, policy director with Northwest Energy Coalition said she would welcome working with the POWER group on addressing their concerns.
“We have been open to having conversations with all stake holders and have been in conversation with stakeholders the past five years in regards to changes to the law and ways the law can be made more effective to facilitate and improve implementation,” Hirsh said. “We have hope to and would like to sit down with the folks in power and hear what specifically they’d like to tweak. We’d like to hear what that is and engage in a conversation and see if we can’t find a common ground.”
Hirsh said she has been in contact with legislative representatives at Benton and Franklin PUD but as of Oct. 1 had not been approached by POWER.
The coalition has support from Senators Mike Hewitt and Jerome Delvin, District Representatives Terry Nealey, Brad Klippert and Larry Haler.
“With this act if we can’t get it tweaked jus a bit their power costs will increase,” Hewitt said. “I’m very hopeful the legislator will be able to look at 937, make some remodeling to it and change it.”
For more information on POWER visit www.wapower.net.