Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Election 2006: Clean Energy Initiative Leading in Washington State

Initiative 937 currently leading by 5 points with 60% of votes tallied

Washington State's Clean Energy Initiative, I-937, appears to be passing, as votes are tallied in the Evergreen State. With about 60% of votes tallied (as of 4:00 pm Pacific Time), I-937 leads 52.5% to 47.5% and is tracking to pass as the final votes are tallied this evening.

If enacted, as it appears it will be, I-937 would require the 17 largest utilities in Washington state to meet 15% of their electricity demand with new renewable energy resources by the year 2020, with gradually increasing targets in the interim years (3% in 2015 and 9% in 2019). The Initiative would also require affected utilities to harness all cost-effective energy efficiency and conservation opportunities within their service territories.

About one third of the outstanding votes are from King County (the Seattle/Tacoma area) which has been tracking 60-40 in support of the bill, while the remaining uncounted votes are largely from counties that have been tracking at 50% or more of voters approving the Clean Energy Initiative.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer had this to report:
Initiative 937, an energy efficiency initiative setting new conservation goals for utility companies, held a comfortable lead across the state Tuesday. With many more ballots still to be counted in King County, the measure seemed sure to pass.

Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., a supporter of the initiative, said its success will grease the wheels for national legislation.

"Now we're going to move in Washington (D.C.)," he said.

The initiative would require utilities with 25,000 or more customers -- currently 17 of the state's 63 utilities, including Seattle City Light and Puget Sound Energy -- to meet specific renewable energy goals.

The measure calls for the larger utilities by 2020 to get 15 percent of their energy from renewable sources -- primarily wind -- or from other sources including solar, wave or tidal power and methane captured from landfills and dairy cow manure.

But many utilities objected, saying they want to determine what is best for their utility.
Initiative 937 was a hard fought race with key opposition coming from the pulp and paper industry (including Weyerhauser, Boise Cascade and others), the Association of Washington Businesses, a few utilities (including Avista Corp. and PacifiCorp/Pacific Power), and a few large industrial utility customers (specifically Boeing).

Proponents of the Initiative included a broad coalition of ratepayer advocacy, environmental, public health and other public interest groups, as well as the Washington Public Utility Association, several elected officials, and many more. U.S. Representative Jay Inslee of Washington, who easily won reelection on Tuesday, deserves special mention as the Initiatives most vocal and public supporter.

I-937's fight was made all the more difficult by a long and confusing ballot title which left voters unsure about what the initiative would do if enacted. Polls repeatedly showed that when voters knew that a vote for I-937 supported the development of clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency, support for the Initiative was very strong.

Still, despite the confusing ballot title and the well-funded opposition, Washington voters appear to have approved the Clean Energy Initiative, clearly articulating their preference for a clean energy future for the state.

Washington will join 20 other states and the District of Columbia that already have renewable energy standards on the books. Two other states have soft renewable energy goals.

The passage of Initiative 937 in Washington, as well as the solid reelection of Oregon's Governor Ted Kulongoski yesterday, will lend momentum to a proposal to enact a Renewable Energy Standard in neighboring Oregon. The Standard, proposed and backed by Governor Kulongoski, as well as a broad coalition of public interest and environmental groups, would enact a 25% by 2025 renewable energy target. Stakeholder discussions are currently underway to draft legislation which will be submitted to the Oregon legislature before the 2007 session begins in January.

The favorable national election results for the Democratic Party may also mean that we will see energy legislation addressing renewable energy and energy independence at the federal level in the coming months. Several Democratic leaders have proposed energy legislation in the past while the House and Senate were under Republican control, only to have their 'energy independence' bills stall in committee [see this previous post for one of many examples]. With Democrats now controlling the agenda in the House, and - pending the outcome of the closely contested race in Virginia - in the Senate as well, 'energy independence' legislation will likely make its way to the House and Senate floor.

All in all, the results of yesterday's mid-term elections are quite favorable for renewable energy advocates across the country. Stay tuned ... this should be an interesting next couple of years!


  • Text of Initiative 937

  • [Full disclosure: my employer, the Renewable Northwest Project is a principle sponsor of I-937 and key supporter of the proposed Oregon Renewable Portfolio Standard.

    I am personally more excited to write this post than any other I have written since starting my blog!

    This is truly an important victory for a clean energy future in the Pacific Northwest!

    Thank you to all of you out there who supported Initiative 937 in one way or another. This was a truly close race, and all of your efforts were key to securing this clean energy victory!

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