Ensuring equity in Washington’s 100% clean electricity law implementation

Ensuring equity in Washington’s 100% clean electricity law implementation

Washington passed 100% clean electricity into law earlier this year, and with public input government agencies are currently drafting rules to guide utilities on how to comply with the law by phasing out fossil fuel emissions and integrating equity in their service models. We have a chance now and in the coming months to shape the equity terms and objectives in how the law is administered, primarily in defining processes for energy assistance and equitable distribution of benefits.

100% Clean Energy by 2045 is now the law in Washington!

In the 2019 Legislative Session Front & Centered with our partners at the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy successfully drafted recommendations and advocated that the Legislature and Governor pass 100% clean electricity into law. The Clean Energy Transformation Act (CETA) (Senate Bill 5116; 19.405 RCW) formalizes Washington’s commitment to phase out fossil fuels used in electricity production in the state.

The new law sets requirements for electric utilities to reduce the use of fossil fuels in a three part schedule for clean electricity, where electricity generation will be coal-free by 2025, carbon neutral by 2030, and emissions-free by 2045.

Electric utilities are now bound by equity considerations. They must track impacts, offer, expand plans, and report on energy assistance to lower income households, and provide benefits for all. 

In addition to providing for 100% clean electricity, the law centers equity as a core consideration in utility planning and processes and adds and expands energy assistance requirements, including that:

  • there “should not be an increase in environmental health impacts to [already] highly impacted communities”. [§ 1(6)]
    F&C staff and leaders celebrating at the 100% clean bill signing in May 2019

    F&C members and staff celebrating at the 100% clean bill signing

  • “public interest includes, but is not limited to: The equitable distribution of energy benefits and reduction of burdens to vulnerable populations and highly impacted communities; long-term and short-term public health, economic, and environmental benefits and the reduction of costs and risks; and energy security and resiliency.” [§ 1(6)]
  • Energy assistance must be provided to low-income Washington households by July 2021 and biennial utility cumulative assessments of “funding levels needed to meet: (A) Sixty percent of the current energy assistance need, or increasing energy assistance by fifteen percent over the amount provided in 2018, whichever is greater, by 2030; and (B) ninety percent of the current energy assistance need by 2050” [§ 12(4)(a)(iii)]
  • Directs Dept. of Health to expand on the Environmental Health Disparities Map and for utilities to apply that in equitably distributing benefits and burdens

Ultimately utilities are expected to apply equity considerations to the full scope of their operations and prioritize fair pricing, just distribution of benefits including bill and weatherization assistance, inclusive procurement, diverse hiring, equitable infrastructure development, and socially conscious investment.

Who’s leading the effort, and What’s happening now

Government agencies are mandated to coordinate their obligations under CETA. Agencies are currently in the rule-making process to establish clear regulatory processes and standards for compliance, from definitions to schedules to reporting requirements. At at glance this includes:

Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) 

The UTC directly oversees investor-owned energy utilities, including updates to the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) and the Energy Independence Act (EIA) mandates. The two primary phases of UTC CETA rule-making and implementation are:

 

Phase I [Now through December 2020]

Discuss equitable distribution of benefits guidelines for:

  • Acquisition rule-making
  • Electric Integrated Resource Plans (IRPs) updates and Clean Energy Action Plans
  • Energy Independence Act (EIA) rule-making
  • Clean Energy Implementation Plans (CEIPs) and reporting, compliance and penalties rule-making

Discuss definition of energy assistance need and low-income, and consider low-income energy efficiency targets for EIA rule-making

 

Phase II [January 2021- through June 2022]

Adopt social cost of carbon for conservation

Incorporate CIA and data assessment in IRPs

Dept. of Commerce

 

 

Commerce is the lead regulatory agency for planning and monitoring compliance of public/consumer-owned utilities with 100% clean energy targets and equity considerations. The rule-making implementation phases are the same as for the UTC, with a slightly different scope:

Phase I [Now through December 2020]

  • Develop guidelines for data collection and define low-income energy burden, energy assistance and the equitable distribution of energy benefits
  • Make rules for amended Energy Independence Act
  • Establish planning requirements for CEIP and IRPs
  • Establish reporting requirements for electric utilities to demonstrate compliance
  • Coordinate with UTC in developing rules related to process, timelines, and documentation.

Phase II [January 2021 through June 2022]

  • Complete CIA rule-making to update IRPs

Dept. of Ecology

Ecology will establish requirements for Energy Transformation Projects (ETPs) that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel consumption. The deadline for adopting ETPs and greenhouse gas rules is 12/31/2020.

Dept. of Health

Health is developing a cumulative impact analysis (CIA) of the impacts of both climate change and fossil fuels on population health, in order to designate highly impacted communities, building on the environmental health disparities map. The CIA deadline is 12/31/2020.

Dept. of Labor & Industries

 

CETA offers tax exemptions for energy projects where L&I “certifies that the project includes: Procurement from and contracts with women, minority, or veteran-owned businesses… preferred entry for workers living in the area where the project is being constructed…compensates workers at prevailing wage rates determined by local collective bargaining…[or] is developed under a community workforce agreement or project labor agreement.” § 18(1)(c)

 

L&I is tasked with adopting emergency and permanent rules to set minimum requirements for the above labor standards and good faith efforts that might include “proactive outreach to firms that are women, minority, and veteran-owned businesses; advertising in local community publications and publications appropriate to identified firms; participating in community job fairs, conferences, and trade shows; and other measures” § 18(2) Emergency rules must be adopted by 12/1/2019 and take effect by 1/1/2020.

As these agencies work together to develop the details of the regulatory framework, they are soliciting participation. Community perspectives will be valuable to ensure that utilities have the clearest definitions and instructions on how to support equitable energy assistance, weatherization, hiring, contracting, sourcing, maintenance and infrastructure development practices. By attending public consultations and workshops, submitting written comments, and working with Front & Centered and our environmental justice allies, you can directly support how the law shapes out to make a cleaner and healthier environment and ensure benefits for all. 

Opportunities for community feedback and public comments on the development of the rules are available for the Commerce and UTC coordination processes and will continue.

Commerce accepted public input on energy assistance and data at a workshop held on November 4 at the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. Prior to the workshop, on Oct. 31st Front and Centered held a webinar with our membership to identify key issues to make energy assistance programs operate successfully. Among the chief concerns raised were that household data should be managed with sensitivity given the current anti-immigrant sentiment of the federal government. Additionally, it was agreed that measures should be taken to make it easier to apply and qualify for assistance – and easier to overcome obstacles related to language, administration, and income variability. Outreach is another priority, and we concluded that more work is necessary to communicate the availability of weatherization assistance to households that could benefit from it.

Commerce will be accepting further comments on energy assistance until December 6 and then producing draft guidelines for energy utilities in January 2020. They are looking for feedback on particular sections of the law, including definitions, program mandates for utilities, and requirements for data reporting and assessment planning.

Front & Centered will remain actively involved in monitoring CETA implementation, communicating developments to our membership, advising rule-makers and utilities on equity commitments, and mobilizing support to ensure that environmental justice remains central to the law’s effective application.

Let us know what you think.

If you have any questions, comments, or ideas for greater collaboration, please contact us on Facebook or at  coordinators@frontandcentered.org

 

 

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