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Lawmakers seek to change state clean energy law

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 15, 2013 at 11:05 am •  Published: February 15, 2013

SEATTLE (AP) — Ever since voters passed a law requiring the state's largest utilities to get more electricity from wind, solar and other renewable power, there's been no shortage of attempts to overhaul the rules.

This legislative session is no different. Several GOP-backed bills being considered would loosen restrictions, a possibility that has drawn criticism from Gov. Jay Inslee and opponents who say it would undercut the law aimed at spurring clean energy sources and reducing pollution.

The measures "actually reduce the effectiveness of our renewable energy standard and take us backward on energy rather than forward," Inslee said at a news conference last week.

The Energy Independence Act, which state voters passed as Initiative 937 in 2006, requires nearly a third of the state's utilities, those with at least 25,000 customers, to ramp up and get 15 percent of power from wind, solar, geothermal and certain woody biomass by 2020.

All 17 utilities that must follow the law met the first deadline in 2012 by getting 3 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources or buying equivalent credits. The companies also met or exceeded energy conservation targets required by the law.

But some lawmakers, utility companies and others say the law creates undue burdens for utilities and raises electricity rates on consumers.

"Every year we don't amend 937, the market become more distorted. Customers are starting to feel the pinch," said state Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, head of the Senate Energy, Environment & Telecommunications committee.

Many utilities have enough power to meet consumer needs, but are forced to sell their cheap power to buy more expensive renewable power to comply with the law, said Ericksen, who has sponsored several 937-related bills.

One of the more controversial bills, Senate Bill 5431, would allow hydroelectric power to be counted as a renewable energy source; that bill hasn't been heard in committee yet.

Since most utilities in Washington already get the bulk of power from hydroelectric dams, it would essentially gut the law. The law excluded hydropower because backers wanted to spur development of new energy sources.

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