Friday, September 18, 2020
Sept. 18, 2020

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Proponents of I-1631 say schools could be among beneficiaries

1631 is a broad initiative, but the campaign for it says it'll have real local benefits. But will it?

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:

Less than 10 years ago, the Camas School District built two schools as efficiently as possible. But already, the compact fluorescent lighting system is outdated compared with the more efficient LED lights that are on the market.

Switching over could save the district 30 percent to 50 percent in lighting costs.

“Multiply those lights out over 14 school buildings and 18 buildings overall, you multiply those out that’s a pretty significant savings,” said Steve Marshall, director of educational resources for the district.

But the district can’t afford to make the switch, not even with the assistance of an incentive program offered by Clark Public Utilities. Marshall said the district explored the possibility of taking out a loan to meet the match, but ultimately decided against it.

“There is a payoff, but it’d take years,” he said. “But we’re leaving the incentive on the table and the potential savings on the table.”

Lighting isn’t the only place the district would make improvements if given the chance. There’s also water conservation technology, HVAC system improvements and waste-reduction programs.

Nick Abraham, communications director for Yes On 1631, said the district is a prime example of an organization that could be helped should the initiative become law.

“That’s exactly who it’d help out,” he said. “I think that’s what’s so frustrating about clean tech — the folks who need to save that money the most are the ones who can least afford it.”

Twofold benefit

Backers of Initiative 1631 say putting a fee on carbon — effectively charging emitters for the right to release carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the atmosphere — would have a twofold benefit for Washington communities: for one it would reduce pollution potentially by millions of tons per year; and for another, were it to become law in 2020, it would create a pot of money, around $2.2 billion in five years, according to state estimates.

Some, but not all, of the state’s largest polluters would pay the fee, including electric utilities, natural gas utilities, oil refiners and oil and gas companies. However, large manufacturers and other industrial polluters such as mills, glass manufacturers, cement refineries won’t pay it directly, though they may experience increased costs if they use fossil fuels.

Seventy percent of proceeds would be devoted to clean energy projects — ones that would boost efficiency and-or provide worker training; 25 percent would be invested in improving forest and water conditions, while the last 5 percent would go to community projects, wildfire response, responses to sea level rise and public school educational programs.

The initiative’s fund allocations would be reviewed by an oversight board, which would then make recommendations to the Legislature. There are already similar boards in place.

No clear projects

The campaign’s website includes a map of the state littered with potential projects scattered from one corner to the next. While they name specific organizations, forests or schools where the money could go, the map is vague in how the money would actually be used.

Abraham said that’s by design.

“We are not being prescriptive for exact projects we want to invest in,” because the investments will be made over the long-term, he said. “We want the state to innovate and come up with the most efficient projects. … But we were specific around the parameters of what those investments need to do.”

Those clean energy projects would likely lead to the creation of new jobs and companies around the state, backers say.

The yes campaign’s webpage includes C-Tran as a potential beneficiary, saying, “C-Tran will purchase 10 hybrid diesel/electric buses to accommodate a 24,000 vehicle hour service expansion. … The fact that C-Tran is expanding service means that even more consumers will have the opportunity to take quality public transportation. Investments like this clean our air, improve our communities, reduce traffic, and save money.”

But merits of hybrid buses aside, C-Tran said that information is inaccurate and outdated.

“The C-Tran-related verbiage on the I-1631 website appears to be language pulled directly from a 2016 Washington State Regional Mobility Grant that C-Tran applied for and was subsequently awarded,” said a statement released by C-Tran officials. “In an effort to clarify two key points mentioned by the campaign website, C-Tran currently has 60 hybrid buses (not 46) and many of the ‘24,000’ planned service hours have already been implemented with recent service changes.”

Abraham responded that the information came from old Columbian articles. He argued even though C-Tran has already made those improvements, it could probably go further and could very well qualify for funding should the initiative become law.

“They’re not built out so that everyone has access in Clark County,” he said.

Cost estimates vary

The Seattle Times reported that a consulting firm hired by the No on 1631 campaign — which is overwhelmingly funded by oil companies — estimated the average Washington household will pay $440 in 2020, the first year the initiative was enacted, and $990 by 2035. Initiative proponents say it would likely be closer to $200 to $300 for the first year.

While those increased costs would hit the state’s low- and fixed-income residents the hardest, Abraham said the opposition’s concerns are overblown.

“There are provisions in this bill that will help with assistance, that we can help people out with their energy bills,” he said. “Their argument basically assumes we’ll sit on our hands and do absolutely nothing to invest in these efficiency upgrades. That’s not realistic.”

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