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Advancing climate justice in the House after ‘100 Percent’ Senate victory

Photo by Eden, Janine and Jim/Flickr. Republished and modified according to Creative Commons 2.0 license.

The Washington State Senate passed a bill on Friday that would require Washington utilities to reduce and ultimately eliminate the use of fossil fuels to power our electricity grid. Senate Bill (SB) 5116 could be a historic win in climate justice: a just transition toward clean energy in the electricity sector that distributes clean power benefits more equitably.

Front and Centered has been helping to shape the bill since August, working with Governor Inslee’s policy staff, legislators and clean energy and conservation advocates to ensure people with lower incomes and frontline communities benefit from this transition. Legislators in the House should protect the provisions of SB 5116 that advance climate justice — including the requirement that all electric utilities provide energy assistance to households with lower incomes.

Additionally, improvements need to be made before this bill becomes a law. The Senate version still allows major polluter Spokane’s Waste-to-Energy incinerator to qualify as a clean energy generator. This is a great detriment to clean air and greenhouse gas reductions, as the facility has ranked among the top 35 Washington greenhouse gas emitters. Keep in mind this doesn’t factor in air pollutants like particulates, volatile organic compounds, ammonia and sulfur dioxide — hardly clean energy. A similar loophole should be eliminated for a Vancouver-based gas power plant.

As it stands, SB 5116 sets a goal for Washington to be fossil fuel-free by 2045. The goal should be clarified as a mandate.

With these measures in place, Washington has an opportunity to pass a stronger clean electricity bill: one that maximizes impact to ensure all in our state benefit from what could be the beginning of a just transition.

More about SB 5116

The bill would reduce fossil fuels in the electricity grid by:

  • Requiring utilities pursue all cost-effective conservation and efficiency measures;
  • Phasing out coal power by 2025;
  • Requiring 80 percent of power sold by 2030 to be carbon-free; and the remaining 20 percent be reduced elsewhere;
  • Setting a goal of 100 percent of power of sold by 2045 to be free of carbon;
  • Requiring utilities to consider the social cost of greenhouse gas emissions (peoples’ health, property destruction, etc.) in their budget planning and evaluation of resource generation options.

The bill advances equity by:

  • Requiring that all electric utilities provide assistance to reduce the share of income that lower-income households pay for energy through help with bills, lowering rates, home weatherization and conservation, or an ownership stake in renewable energy projects;
  • Requiring that electric utilities disclose the assistance they provide and demonstrate progress toward meeting 60 percent of the need or a 15 percent increase over 2020 levels, by 2030 and 90 percent of the need by 2045;
  • Declaring the public has an interest in ensuring that all customers are benefitting from the transition to clean energy, including vulnerable populations and communities most highly impacted by climate and environmental pollution. This factors in public health and environmental benefits, costs and risks; energy security and resiliency;
  • Requiring that utilities maximize equitable distribution of benefits and this definition of public interest in planning and compliance;
  • Improving labor standards by creating tax incentives for renewable energy project contracting women, minority or veteran-owned businesses.