Tweaks to green energy law discussed at roundtable

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor


Updated: March 14, 2012, 7:11 PM


Roundtable participants

U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas

State Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver

Rob Bernardi, president at Kokusai Semiconductor Equipment Corp.

Jim Short, facilities director at WaferTech

Spencer Leese, attorney for WaferTech

Christa Hammack of WaferTech

Bob Schaefer, attorney for SEH America

Ben Bagherpour, vice president of operations at SEH America

Jeff Ahner of Frito-Lay

Tom Love of Linde Gas

Dave McAlpin of Linde Gas

Neil Fitzpatrick of Pacific Coast Shredding

Robert Seggewiss, plant manager at Great Western Malting

Will Jackson of Great Western Malting

Brad D’Emilio, plant manager at Kyocera Industrial Ceramics

Joe Pasetti, director of government relations at Sharp Electronics

Larry Blaufus, senior manager at Clark Public Utilities

Lynn Latendresse, power manager at Clark Public Utilities

Lisa Nisenfeld president at Columbia River Economic Development Council

When Southwest Washington lawmakers and business representatives met on Wednesday for a roundtable discussion on hydropower, it didn’t take long before someone brought up Initiative 937, which mandates green energy requirements for utilities.

State Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, mentioned the initiative, calling it the “elephant in the room,” after several roundtable participants spoke about the challenges of complying with energy regulations.

Washington voters approved I-937 in 2006 to require larger utilities to get 15 percent of the power they supply from a renewable source by 2020. Under the initiative, hydropower is not classified as a renewable source of energy.

The initiative spurred the growth of green energy technology in the state, including wind farms, and utilities have complained that the initiative causes them to purchase power they don’t need.

Harris said he would like to see the law change in a way that allows utilities to count at least a percentage of hydroelectricity as a renewable energy.

“It’s pretty much a no-brainer,” said Harris, who is on the state’s House Technology, Energy and Communications Committee. “Give me a percentage of it. Give me something.”

Around the table sat more than 15 representatives from WaferTech, SEH America, Great Western Malting, Frito-Lay and Linde Gas, to name a few. Some who attended the roundtable are members of the Clark County High Tech and Community Council, a group of influential high-tech employers that has lobbied Gov. Chris Gregoire and legislators to make I-937 friendlier to business.

At the state level, politicians have attempted to alter the I-937 rules multiple times. The initiative was broadened a bit during this year’s 60-day legislative session, when lawmakers passed Senate Bill 5575 to define biomass energy created at pulp mills as renewable.

The roundtable meeting was organized by U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas. The public was not invited.

On Wednesday, Herrera Beutler asked roundtable participants to explain the role energy cost plays in their ability to grow a business.

Ben Bagherpour, vice president of operations at SEH America, said his company sought out Vancouver as the location for its second-largest crystal growing plant because of the low electricity costs. Their largest plant is in Japan.

Bagherpour told Herrera Beutler that if electricity costs continue to go up for the Vancouver facility, the company likely wouldn’t expand in the area. That also means they wouldn’t be creating more jobs.

“I hear often about our ability to compete in a global market,” Herrera Beutler said.

Bagherpour said making tweaks to I-937 would benefit his business. The first phase of the initiative kicked in this year and requires larger utilities to get at least three percent of their power from approved renewable energy sources.

“From our perspective, we are supportive of renewable energy,” Bagherpour said, but “let’s be reasonable.”

Supporters of I-937 include wind energy companies and environmental groups who argue that,when voters approved the initiative, they expressed their support for innovative sources of renewable energy rather than hydropower. Environmentalists also said the new rules would help discourage utilities from using fossil fuels to produce energy, noting that pollution from fossil fuels contributes to lung disease and asthma.

Business representatives said that energy conservation has typically been one way for them to save money, but many of them have just about conserved all that they can.

Lynn Latendresse of Clark Public Utilities said there’s a common misconception that energy conservation drives up energy costs, when in reality, price increases are affected most by changes in the weather.

Washington state gets nearly 70 percent of its power from electricity created by water flowing through dams, and hydropower is currently the cheapest way to generate electricity, Herrera Beutler said on Monday in a statement.

Last week, Herrera Beutler introduced a nonbinding resolution asking House members to recognize hydroelectricity as “the most abundant source of clean, renewable energy in the United States.”

“It shouldn’t be a controversial issue,” Herrera Beutler said, and later added that California defines hydropower as renewable. “It’s an awareness issue.”

Although Herrera Beutler is not on the U.S. House committee that deals with energy policy, she has joined GOP House members in forming a House Energy Action Team to promote legislation that addresses rising energy prices, promotes energy independence and boosts job creation.

“I’m moving policy with a group of like-minded lawmakers,” she said during the roundtable.